What…. My Family’s Dysfunctional… No Way

What…. My Family’s Dysfunctional… No Way



I think there are many reasons why people don’t see there upbringing as dysfunctional. First and foremost is that the only example they have is their own childhood. They have nothing to compare theirs to. They may have glimpses of the family life of their friends and neighbors but not the whole picture. Also dysfunctional family life by its very own nature does not allow for other options or ideas on how to live.


An example that I always think of is listening to a women tell her recovering story. She was adamant about stressing to us that she was raised in a two parent loving household. Only to later in her story tell us about receiving beatings ( her words not mine) with ironing cords, extension cords, switches and belts. She thought that receiving beatings was just a normal happening in someone’s upbringing. Not understanding that there is nothing loving and caring about receiving beatings and it is far from normal.


As with many forms of recovery, most people do not think they have a problem. Being raised in a dysfunctional family myself, I understand this obstacle all too well. For myself the main difficulty of seeing my family life as it truly was and is are the survival mechanisms that were necessary for me to cope with the negative forces swirling around me in my life These mechanisms had become so engrained in me that they operated unconsciously, taking on a life of their own.


The problem today with all these survival skills I desperately needed to make it through my dysfunctional childhood are now an albatross around my neck. I am no longer enmeshed in that family system and trying to live not just survive.


As with many things the first step is admitting and accepting that I was raised in an dysfunctional home and that I have been negatively effected by it.  As a recovering person myself. I see so many recovering people working hard to break the cycle of addiction that has been passed down from generation to generation. Not understanding that the cycle of dysfunction that has  been passed down can be just as destructive.


Sexual abuse is a devastating part of the dysfunction cycle.  It has become quite evident to me that so many of my fellow recovering addicts have been victims of sexual abuse. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with 3 new people after a meeting and all three were sexually abused. Estimates are that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been abused. If you combine them to 1 in 5 at our population now in the US, that is about 65 million. To put it into perspective it is estimated that there are 21-22 million cancer patients. Yet it is still a subject that is rarely discussed or due any consideration for it effect on our society. Most of these estimated 65 million sexual abuse become parents as adults. It truly frightens me when I think about what damage is being done by untreated abuse survivors to their childrens spirit, soul and psyche.


Our first and most prevalent teacher are our parents. If they were raised in an addictive dysfunctional and abusive homes, what do they have to teach their children?  Most of what they know and understand about raising children and being a family was learned in their family of origin. Well, in there lies the problem. I am reminded of when I once started a new job overseeing the grounds maintenance at a local collage. I was stunned at the improper processes and procedures the crew was using in their work. When I questioned them about it they all stated that “this is how we have always done things”. Like somehow that in itself made them the proper ways to do things


This is the same way of thinking I find when working with with clients in breaking the cycle of dysfunction. It amazes me to hear how some of the most absurd, abusive and detrimental behaviors, outlooks and understandings have been normalized. The reactions from clients when these things are questioned ranges from anger to denial to confusion. To see the duality in their eyes and body language as their defensive mechanisms  rise to the surface and circle the wagons in a desperate attempt to protect their psyche from what their heart and soul knows is true.


Denial can be one of the strongest forces I know of. It is also the tool that allowed us to survive our childhood and family dynamics. I also see it as God’s Grace, without it we may not have made it out alive or sane.


The problem is that we are trying to live today, not merely survive. The wall of denial that was once our ally, is now in our way. The life we crave and desire is on the other side of that wall.


The path to that life does not start with demolishing of the wall. The process starts with doing the work to make it transparent so we can see the other side. This can only be done by looking at and accepting our family dynamics and life as they were. Not as how we  needed or wanted them to be.


We can not move through, grieve, forgive, let go or heal from what we do not acknowledge and accept. We also do not have to do any of this alone. There are many of us that have done or are doing this work. We stand ready to help and support you. All you have to do is let us.




Paul Hellwig
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