- Surviving A Dysfunctional Family
- Healing from a Dysfunctional Childhood
- Why we don’t feel our feelings?
- Emotions are Energy…. if not processed they become Stuck Energy
- We all have Writing on our Walls
- Ride Your Emotions to Freedom
- Erase and Replace What’s Written on Your Wall
- You Deserve to live a Happy and Joyful Life
- What is a dysfunctional family?
- The effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family
- Unpredictable, chaotic, and unsafe
- You feel unimportant and unworthy
- Dysfunctional family rules
Surviving A Dysfunctional Family
Everyone comes into life with a purpose. You are a unique expression of the universal life force. Spirit guides you from the moment your life begins. The people and events of your life reflect your spirit’s journey. No one else ever has or will affect the world as you do. With every act, word or thought, you are adding to All-That-Is.
Your family is your first and most influential bond. What you learn from them colors the way you see yourself and the world. As a child, your physical helplessness makes you dependent on the people closest to you for survival. Too often those relationships are destructive instead of supportive. The family you join already has tendencies: patterns, beliefs, and attitudes which they expect you to share. Going along gets you what you need, so you adapt to fit in. But when you ignore your instincts, you don’t feel right. You create the opposite of what you intend.
The good news is you don’t have to be a victim of your upbringing. Although a dysfunctional family can crush your self-esteem, confuse you, and wreck your relationships, the distortion of your natural instincts can be reversed. Your problems can show you what you’d rather have, so you can become the person you want to be and build a life you love.
Surviving a dysfunctional family doesn’t necessarily mean getting along better with your relatives. You make peace with the past by treating difficult situations, thoughts, and feelings as opportunities to unravel the knots in your heart and mind that keep you stuck. Creating a new future means drawing on your innate wisdom to help you overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. When you do your best, you tap into a power that’s been within you all along, in even the worst circumstances, even when you weren’t aware of it.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. The most important thing is a dedication to trying new things and learning from your experience. No matter what happens, trust that what you go through will enlighten you, little by little, more and more, deepening your ability to love, create, and make a difference.
So how do you go about doing this? Here are ten ways to spark change in your life:
1. SET A NEW COURSE
Finding your own preferences
Your new course is first an internal one, which paves the way for external changes. If you’re not satisfied with your life as it is, imagine how it can get better. What happens in your life is largely up to you, so make it a priority to figure out how to create what you want.
Take time every day to think about what you want. Be willing to try new things. Pay close attention to ideas and feelings that light you up. Allow yourself to feel excited about your possibilities. What you dedicate yourself to, you can create.
2. TRUST YOUR INTUITION
Tapping into your inner wisdom
When you hear the “little voice of wisdom” inside, listen. Within you is a guidance system that makes itself known through your ideas and emotions. Trust it. If something doesn’t feel right, it may mean that it’s not for you. Wonder about why not, and what you’d like instead. Your instinct leads you to where you need to go at the perfect moment for the best results.
Stand your ground. Believe in yourself in the face of criticism. Have good intentions. Don’t second-guess yourself. All you can do is what you think is best at the moment.
3. LOOK FOR A SILVER LINING
Developing a positive attitude
Spirit underlies everything. You didn’t come here to prove your worth or to find a problem and fix it. You came to express your talents and abilities, to realize your dreams. How things appear is affected by how you look at them. Search for the positive. Negative interpretations dull your energy and ability to cope. No matter how bad a situation seems, ask yourself, what good could come from this? What can I learn here? You already have inside you the resources to build the life you want. You just have to learn how to use them.
4. TAKE A STEP BACK
Separating motivation from unconscious pattern
Be on the lookout for destructive habitual patterns. Noticing is the first step to breaking them. Don’t fight them, just observe your thoughts and feelings. The deeper you can go, the more you unravel the knots in your heart and mind. Bring spirit into the process by inviting metaphysical help in any form that works for you. Be influenced by others’ opinions only if they inspire you. You don’t have to convince anyone of your right to have your life as you want it.
5. WATCH WHAT YOU SAY
Developing effective communication
Be kind. Tell the truth. Speak carefully. Say good things. Be aware of your effect on others. Make things right. Know when to shut up. Don’t interrupt. Choose your battles. Watch what you listen to. Allow different points of view.
Don’t brag, one-up, pretend you’re something you’re not, or congratulate yourself too much. Don’t think of yourself as better than most. Don’t give advice unless you’re asked. Don’t gossip. Don’t assume you’re being understood. Watch what you listen to. Don’t put up with disrespect, manipulation or negative thinking.
6. DON’T KEEP SCORE
Setting your own standards
Life isn’t about success or failure. Although both teach valuable lessons, fulfilling your potential is the essential goal. Adversity can develop strength. If a dream sours, let it go without judgment or remorse. Assume it’s no longer relevant, and look for new options. Even a losing battle can be a stepping-stone to a better situation. Accepting change brings peace of mind.
7. NO VICTIMS, NO VILLAINS
Every situation brings exactly what you need to wake up
Relationships are like jigsaw puzzles. All the pieces fit together to create the whole. You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings, nor are they for yours. There’s no reason for guilt, blame, or shame. Allow people to be as they are.
Accept each moment as if you’d chosen it. If someone hurts you, look for what you can learn from it. Holding a grudge drains your energy. Forgiveness doesn’t mean it was okay with you; it means releasing the person’s power to upset you. You may never forget, but letting go of resentment is more productive. This goes double for forgiving yourself.
8. MEDITATE AND TREAT YOURSELF WELL
Meditation calms your conscious thinking mind, and helps you access your inner wisdom. Counting your breaths is the basic form, or you can silently repeat a soothing word or phrase like “peace” or “well-being.” When your mind wanders, and it will, just bring your focus back and start over. Even ten minutes a day can make a difference.
Make time to have fun and enjoy life. Take walks in nature. Spend time alone. Exercise, rest and eat when you need to, and drink lots of water. Something as simple as a warm bath or good stretch can do wonders in improving your perspective. Laugh. Let yourself dream your fondest dreams. Celebrate your successes, big and small.
9. GET OUTSIDE HELP
See beyond your blind spots
Get counseling, either alone or with family members. It helps to talk about your feelings, no matter how embarrassing, strange or awful they seem to you. Find someone you trust and feel compatible with, and be willing to pour your heart out. An objective observer can clear up confusion and help you set your creative energy free.
Examine both sides of any issue. Don’t follow advice blindly, but do explore ideas that make sense to you to see what happens. Join a group of people with similar interests or circumstances to yours. Try art, sports, music, or dance for fun and/or therapy. Read self-help books. Most have at least some helpful nuggets, and can reassure you that you’re not alone. Don’t expect The Answer, but serve yourself a variety of ideas to take or leave as you like.
10. MOVE ON
Graduate to living fully
Respect your own boundaries. Your first priority is to yourself. Only when you’re at peace with yourself can you make a real contribution to anyone. Live your own truth, be honorable, and intend the best for everyone, including yourself.
Trying to change someone is futile, no matter how much you care, or how badly you think they need it. You have no control over what anyone else feels or thinks. Do what you can, and do your best, but not at your own expense. Working things through can be healing when there’s mutual respect, but if you feel hopeless, scapegoated, threatened or frantic, retreat may be the only appropriate choice, at least for the moment. It could be as basic as leaving the room briefly, or as extreme as ending the relationship or moving away. To leave your mark on future generations, pass along what you learn.
Suzanne Gold (BA, MA, Psychology) is in private practice and teaches at St. Mary’s College. She has worked at psychiatric and drug treatment centers, taught meditation, co-founded a self-help group for women in public housing and an environmental grantmaking fund. She is author of “DADDY’S GIRLS,” Gold Medal winner in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards, and “BEING YOURSELF: Twenty-Four Ways to See the Light,” and is also an award-winning vocalist and songwriter.
Healing from a Dysfunctional Childhood
Our Childhood Experiences can leave wounds and scars that make their presence felt in clever little ways, long after we’ve “grown up”. If you find you have difficulty having healthy relationships or being successful at work, this may be what’s holding you back from having the life you want. A difficult past doesn’t have to cast a shadow over your life.
Our lives can be forever changed if we experienced a dysfunctional or traumatic childhood. Children who felt the pain of abuse or neglect or the loss of someone they loved continue to suffer even when they are adults. Sometimes we don’t recognize the signs of abuse, neglect, or some other kind of trauma or dysfunction in our childhood. Other times we tend to block out the memories or minimize them because of the pain we feel.
Your wounds may not be your fault, but your healing is your responsibility for living a happier, healthier life.
Why we don’t feel our feelings?
It is normal to add more layers to the Writing on our Wall as we move through life. The original wounds become compounded with misplaced guilt and shame we tend to put upon ourselves. Or we might minimize the experiences to the point whereby we try to normalized them by saying things like, “Oh this happens all the time to many others, so it’s probably just normal.”
Our childhood emotions such as anger and sadness are painful and crying or confronting others, or telling our family secrets was often not acceptable when we were a child. We learned to suppress our emotions, rather than feel and process them. Sometimes it is difficult as an adult to feel things fully, but as a child, this process is even more difficult.
Emotions are Energy…. if not processed they become Stuck Energy
We carry our childhood wounds with us into adulthood, and they affect our relationships, careers, happiness, health. They will continue to affect everything in our life until we process them and heal them beginning with feeling our feelings fully.
For most of us we have not been taught how to process these emotions at the time the experience occurs. When this happens, the energy of the emotions becomes stuck in our mind and body. Instead of healing from the wounding event the energy remains in our unconscious, and will continue to affect our life until we take steps to erase and replace the old experience that caused the original wound. We refer to the old experiences and their associated emotional energy fields as the Writing on Our Walls.
We all have Writing on our Walls
Even the most loving and attentive caregivers wrote on our walls. There is no shame and blame in this because they too have writing on their walls back through generations. So, we really need to stay focused on the writing, not where it came from.
The Writing on our Wall has lasting effects that show up in our sense of self and our ability to love ourselves. For example, a well-meaning parent or caregiver may have said something along the lines of, “It’s okay, don’t feel bad, you’ll be OK.” This of course, was their attempt to soothe us when we started to cry. The truth is, feeling bad can be good for us. Sometimes we do need to feel bad and to know that it’s OK to feel bad! Feeling things fully means that we need to think about why we felt the way we did.
Ride Your Emotions to Freedom
When the shadow of the past experiences come up for you, and it will from time to time, learn to sit with your emotions. Simply observe them, not attempting to change or avoid them and any discomfort. Allow yourself and your body to respond the way it wants or needs to. Go ahead and cry if that’s what you feel. Even yell and get angry is that what’s you feel. Expressing your emotions in a productive way, harming none, get’s the energy of the emotion moving and processing the experience. This will also free you, opening you to receive the message and wisdom of the message. Ask yourself: “If this emotion were going to say something to me, what would it be?”
Many of us, including myself, spend many years absorbing the blame for our abusive and dysfunctional families. As children and adults, we exhaust every possible avenue to “get love.” Some were fortunate in the sense that they acknowledged that the events in their childhood were not right. They removed themselves from the situation and chose no contact. It is common for many, to invoke a childhood survival skill even before they fully understood how important it was to do so.
Erase and Replace What’s Written on Your Wall
The good news is that you can heal from your childhood experiences. My childhood experiences and memories stayed with me long after I grew up. I could stand on my own two feet; and I was very successful in some areas of my life, but emotionally, I was still reeling from the stifling effects of a less than stellar upbringing.
It took me years before I was able to feel things fully, to admit to myself the truth of all that happened. Of course, that was years ago. However today, using the process of self discovery and Energy Psychology techniques you can move quickly through the pain. You can be free to create the life you want most.
As I set about overcoming my own childhood wounds in adulthood, one insight lay at the heart of all my efforts. I came to understand that I was not the sum total of my stories and I was not my wounds. It was time to let them go, and to forgive myself and the others. My heart knew the truth of who I was. I only needed to listen to my heart.
You Deserve to live a Happy and Joyful Life
Whatever childhood experiences that you went through, know that you are loved. Just keep reminding yourself of this one truth every time that old shadow shows up. Know that you can change the Writing on Your Wall and align with truths about who you really are. I promise you it will be a very rewarding journey. In closing, I would have to say the biggest take away for me on my personal journey was to be very mindful of what we write on our children’s wall.
… Blessings and Love, Christina
Learn More about The Mind is The Map!
If you grew up in a family with a chemically dependent, mentally ill, or abusive parent, you know how hard it is — and you know that everyone in the family is affected. Over time, the family begins to revolve around maintaining the status quo – the dysfunction. Rigid family rules and roles develop in dysfunctional families that help maintain the dysfunctional family system and allow the addict to keep using or the abuser to keep abusing. Understanding some of the family rules that dominate dysfunctional families can help us to break free of these patterns and rebuild our self-esteem and form healthier relationships.
What is a dysfunctional family?
There are many types and degrees of dysfunction in families. For the purposes of this article, the defining feature of a dysfunctional family is that its members experience repetitive trauma.
The types of traumatic childhood experiences that I’m referring to are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and they include experiencing any of the following during your childhood:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Witnessing domestic violence
- A parent or close family member who is an alcoholic or addict
- A parent or close family member who is mentally ill
- Parents who are separated or divorced
- A parent or close family member being incarcerated
The effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family
In order to thrive, physically and emotionally, children need to feel safe — and they rely on a consistent, attuned caregiver for that sense of safety. But in dysfunctional families, caregivers are neither consistent nor attuned to their children.
Unpredictable, chaotic, and unsafe
Dysfunctional families tend to be unpredictable, chaotic, and sometimes frightening for children.
Children feel safe when they can count on their caregivers to consistently meet their physical needs (food, shelter, protecting them from physical abuse or harm) and emotional needs (noticing their feelings, comforting them when they’re distressed). Often, this doesn’t happen in dysfunctional families because parents don’t fulfill their basic responsibilities to provide for, protect, and nurture their children. Instead, one of the children has to take on these adult responsibilities at an early age.
Children also need structure and routine to feel safe; they need to know what to expect. But in dysfunctional families, children’s needs are often neglected or disregarded and there aren’t clear rules or realistic expectations. Sometimes there are overly harsh or arbitrary rules and other times there is little supervision and no rules or guidelines for the children.
In addition, children often experience their parents’ behavior as erratic or unpredictable. They feel like they have to walk on eggshells in their own home for fear of upsetting their parents or unleashing their parent’s’ rage and abuse. For example, children in dysfunctional families often describe feeling anxious about coming home from school because they don’t know what they will find.
In dysfunctional families, adults tend to be so preoccupied with their own problems and pain that they don’t give their children what they need and crave – consistency, safety, unconditional love. As a result, children feel highly stressed, anxious, and unlovable.
You feel unimportant and unworthy
Quite simply, dysfunctional families don’t know how to deal with feelings in healthy ways. Parents who are dealing with their own problems or are taking care of (often enabling) an addicted or dysfunctional partner, don’t have the time, energy, or emotional intelligence to pay attention to, value, and support their children’s feelings. The result is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Children experience this as my feelings don’t matter, so I don’t matter. This, of course, damages a child’s self-esteem and causes them to feel unimportant and unworthy of love and attention.
And children in dysfunctional families don’t learn how to notice, value, and attend to their own feelings. Instead, their focus is on noticing and managing other people’s feelings – their safety often depends on it. Some children become highly attuned to how their parents are behaving so they can try to avoid their wrath. For example, a young child might learn to hide under the bed whenever mom and dad start arguing or a child might learn that consoling mom after that argument earns her mom’s affection. So, children learn to tune into other people’s feelings and suppress their own.
In addition to ignoring a child’s emotional needs, parents can also damage a child’s self-esteem with derogatory names and harsh criticism. Young children believe what their parents tell them. So, if your father called you stupid, you believed it. As we get older and spend more time away from our parents, we begin to question some of the negative things we were told as children. However, it’s amazing how much of it sticks with us even as adults. The emotional sting of hurtful words and derogatory messages stays with us even when we logically know we aren’t stupid, for example.
Dysfunctional family rules
As Claudia Black said in her book It Will Never Happen to Me, alcoholic (and dysfunctional) families follow three unspoken rules:
1) Don’t talk. We don’t talk about our family problems – to each other or to outsiders. This rule is the foundation for the family’s denial of the abuse, addiction, illness, etc. The message is: Act like everything is fine and make sure everyone else thinks we’re a perfectly normal family. This is extremely confusing for children who sense that something is wrong, but no one acknowledges what it is. So, children often conclude that they are the problem. Sometimes they are blamed outright and other times they internalize a sense that something must be wrong with them. Because no one is allowed to talk about the dysfunction, the family is plagued with secrets and shame. Children, in particular, feel alone, hopeless, and imagine no one else is going through what they’re experiencing.
The don’t talk rule ensures that no one acknowledges the real family problem. And when the root of the family’s problems is denied, it can never be solved; health and healing aren’t possible with this mindset.
2) Don’t trust. Children depend on their parents or caregivers to keep them safe, but when you grow up in a dysfunctional family, you don’t experience your parents (and the world) as safe and nurturing. And without a basic sense of safety, children feel anxious and have difficulty trusting.
Children don’t develop a sense of trust and security in dysfunctional families because their caregivers are inconsistent and undependable. They are neglectful, emotionally absent, break promises, and don’t fulfill their responsibilities. In addition, some dysfunctional parents expose their children to dangerous people and situations and fail to protect them from abuse. As a result, children learn that they can’t trust others – even their parents – to meet their needs and keep them safe (the most fundamental form of trust for a child).
Difficulty trusting others extends outside the family as well. In addition to the don’t talk mandate, the don’t trust rule keeps the family isolated and perpetuates the fear that if you ask for help, something bad will happen (mom and dad will get a divorce, dad will go to jail, you’ll end up in foster care). Despite how scary and painful home life is, it’s the devil you know; you’ve learned how to survive there – and disrupting the family by talking to a teacher or counselor might make things worse. So, don’t trust anyone.
3) Don’t feel. Repressing painful or confusing emotions is a coping strategy used by everyone in a dysfunctional family. Children in dysfunctional families witness their parents numbing their feelings with alcohol, drugs, food, pornography, and technology. Rarely are feelings expressed and dealt with in a healthy way. Children may also witness scary episodes of rage. Sometimes anger is the only emotion they see their parents express. Children quickly learn that trying to express their feelings will at best lead to being ignored and at worst lead to violence, blame, and shame. So, children also learn to repress their feelings, numb themselves, and try to distract themselves from the pain.
Shame is pervasive in dysfunctional families. It’s the feeling you have when you think there’s something wrong with you, that you’re inferior or unworthy. Shame is the result of family secrets and denial and being told you’re bad and deserve to be hurt or neglected. Children in dysfunctional families often blame themselves for their parents’ inadequacies or for being mistreated or ignored. “It’s my fault” is the easiest way for their young brains can make sense of a confusing and scary situation.
As adults, part of healing from a dysfunctional family is unwinding the feeling of shame and recognizing that our parents’ shortcomings were not our fault and don’t mean we’re inadequate or unworthy.
Healing also means moving beyond the rules that govern dysfunctional family dynamics. You can replace don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel with a new set of guidelines in your adult relationships:
- Talk about your feelings and experiences. You can break down shame, isolation, and loneliness, and build more connected relationships when you share your thoughts and feelings with trustworthy people. Acknowledging and talking about your problems is the opposite of staying in denial. It opens the door to solutions and healing.
- Trust others and set appropriate boundaries. Trust can be a scary thing, especially when people have let you down in the past. It takes time to learn to trust yourself and who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Trust is an important component of healthy relationships, along with healthy boundaries that ensure that you’re being treated with respect and your needs are met.
- Feel all your feelings. You are allowed to have all of your feelings. It will take practice to get back in touch with your feelings and realize their value. But you can start by asking yourself how you feel and telling yourself that your feelings matter. You no longer have to be limited to feeling shame, fear, and sadness. You also don’t need anyone else to validate your feelings; there are no right or wrong feelings or good or bad feelings. For now, just let your feelings exist.
Dysfunctional families. Adult children. Emotional problems. Overreacting. Controlling behaviour. Alcoholism, workaholism and other addictions. Compulsive behaviors like shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, promiscuity. ACDF, ACOA and ASCA. Children of alcoholics and other addicts. Codependency. Victimization. Childhood traumas. Masks and pretending. Unresolved inner pain. Intimacy, attachment and boundaries.
These are very important topics to understand. Either for yourself or for somebody you love. Welcome to the world of self-help and therapy, where words don’t come easy.
Being raised in a dysfunctional family and having gone through my own personal struggles, I’ve started my own healing journey. I want to share some books which can contribute to your own recovery process or for somebody you know and care for. Although I was pretty selective in what is recommended here, I encourage you to read reviews of these books by other people before investing your time and money. Only you can make the correct choices based on your past.
There is a way to break dysfunctional family chain and stop repeating destructive behavioral patterns. You can make a difference. It is a process, it will take time. If the problem is identified, it’s already a significant step to recovery and freedom. I sincerely wish you to start your own way to the light as early as possible.
Questions, comments and feedback please send to web wiseword.org