A Book for Every Idiot & Dysfunctional Family

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(Authors Photo from Book Collection)

Let’s face it. Everyone has friends. Those friends come from a family. The healthy families are called functional. The unhealthy ones are, well, dysfunctional. Feelings, emotions, sharing of healthy love and support, mutual respect and validation of parents,  children and siblings are dealt with openly and honestly and not swept under the rug with poor social skills and the predictable “enabling”of poor behavior patterns.

I have a theory that many families have at least one pain in the ass member whose contributions to any semblance of intelligence quotient is low. And you remember the 1968 hit song by Three Dog Night, “One”? The opening line of the song is: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” Eventually, that isolated imbecile who takes to Texting and Tweeting more than Donald Trump distinguishes themselves as a notch below the seventh-grader being raised across the street in suburbia. Then there’s “emotional intelligence”. This is usually supported by level headed people with an abundant I.Q. and social skills that behave better. Here’s what Carl H. Shubs, Ph.D., has to say about all of this. On functional Families:

“It works for everyone in the family, not just some of the people. It is not perfect, but it is good enough. It is good enough so that the people in the family feel loved, valued, recognized, and appreciated. In the functional, good enough family, safety is a priority. Parents ensure that they create and maintain an environment in which the family members are physically and emotionally safe. Physically, parents are attentive enough to their children that they are able to protect them from harm. They are observant enough that they don’t let little kids run out in traffic, play with matches, put their hands on hot stoves, or swallow detergent. They protect the children from people who might hurt them. If a child has been hurt the parents take prompt and definitive action to ensure that this does not happen again. Parents have enough control, both physically and emotionally, so that they can be in charge to keep the children safe. But they do not control so much that they smother or stifle the children. They guide while still allowing the children the freedom to explore and grow.

“Here, parents are also in control of their own egos, their own self-image, aspirations, hopes, and desires. They are able to differentiate their needs, wants, and identity from their children’s. They do not have to be in control of every decision children make, and they are able to allow and encourage children to make decisions for themselves. If children are never allowed to scrape their knees, they will never learn how to differentiate between those circumstances where they will scrape their knee instead of break their neck.

“In the well functioning family, parents and kids will usually agree on what constitutes the big and little issues. However, it may not be until after some heated arguments that they reach consensus. In this type of family, parents know their kids well and are able to communicate with them effectively, so that they can understand the meaning and importance of a particular issue to the children. Similarly, the kids in that family are empowered enough that they don’t have to manufacture power struggles in order to differentiate themselves from their parents. They can have an identity of their own. They feel heard, recognized, and important. They feel a sense of their own power. For these kids in the well functioning family, an argument or a battle with their parents is about something significant, though the significance of it may not be immediately apparent. An important part of the measure of functional vs. dysfunctional is how the parents and kids treat each other during the discussion or the argument. In the functional family, disagreements and arguments are definitely allowed. Parents and kids treat each other with respect and dignity, even when they disagree or argue. They do not put down, degrade, humiliate, shame, belittle, mock, ridicule, dismiss, berate, invalidate, undermine, sabotage, or otherwise attack each other. They address issues together.

They talk together, even though it may get heated. Kids need to learn that it’s ok to disagree, to have strong emotions about something, and to express those emotions fully, clearly, and directly. They also need to learn that if they do so they will not be punished in some way, such as by being physically hurt, verbally attacked, or emotionally abandoned. They need to learn that all emotions are normal and natural, and while they may need to control how they express those emotions, the emotions themselves are ok, legitimate, valid, accepted, valued, and respected.”

Now let’s contrast this with (ahem) dysfunctional families: “A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and often child neglect or abuse on the part of individual parents occur continually and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions. Children sometimes grow up in such families with the understanding that such an arrangement is normal.

“Dysfunctional families are primarily a result of codependent adults, and may also be affected by addictions, such as substance abuse (e.g., alcohol or drugs), or sometimes an untreated mental illness. Dysfunctional parents may emulate or over-correct from their own dysfunctional parents. In some cases, a “child-like” parent will allow the dominant parent to abuse their children.”

Some features are common to most dysfunctional families:

  • Lack of empathy, understanding, and sensitivity towards certain family members, while expressing extreme empathy or appeasement towards one or more members who have real or perceived “special needs”. In other words, one family member continuously receives far more than he or she deserves, while another is marginalized.
  • Denial (refusal to acknowledge abusive behavior, possibly believing that the situation is normal or even beneficial; also known as the “elephant in the room.”)
  • Inadequate or missing boundaries for self (e.g. tolerating inappropriate treatment from others, failing to express what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment, tolerance of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.)
  • Disrespect of others’ boundaries (e.g. physical contact that other person dislikes; breaking important promises without just cause; purposefully violating a boundary another person has expressed)
  • Extremes in conflict (either too much fighting or insufficient peaceful arguing between family members)
  • Unequal or unfair treatment of one or more family members due to their birth order, gender, age, family role (mother, etc.), abilities, race, caste, etc. (may include frequent appeasement of one member at the expense of others, or an uneven/inconsistent enforcement of rules).”

Children growing up in a dysfunctional family have been known to adopt or be assigned one or more of the following SIX BASIC ROLES:

  • The Good Child (also known as the Hero or Superkid): a child who becomes a high schiever or overachiever outside the family (e.g., in academics or athletics) as a means of escaping the dysfunctional family environment, defining him/herself independently of his/her role in the dysfunctional family, currying favor with parents, or shielding him/herself from criticism by family members
  • The Problem Child, Rebel, or Bad Egg (also known as the Scapegoat when unjustifiably assigned this role by others within the family): the child who a) causes most problems related to the family’s dysfunction or b) “acts out” in response to preexisting family dysfunction, in the latter case often in an attempt to divert attention paid to another member who exhibits a pattern of similar misbehavior
    • A variant of the “problem child” role is the Scapegoat, who is unjustifiably assigned the “problem child” role by others within the family or even wrongfully blamed by other family members for those members’ own individual or collective dysfunction, often despite being the only emotionally stable member of the family.
  • The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family, often assuming a parental role; the intra-familial counterpart of the “Good Child”/”Superkid”
  • The Lost Child or Passive Kid: the inconspicuous, introverted, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden
  • The Mascot or Family Clown: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system
  • The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members’ faults to get whatever he or she wants; often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.”

This gives credence to the old saw, “There’s one in every family”. I’d like to thank: David Stoop and James Masteller, Michael E. Kerr and Murray Bowen, Kate Millett, Nancy J. Napier and Dan Neuharth, Shawn D. Whiteman, Susan McHale, Anna Soli, Dwight Lee Wolter, and last but certainly not least Beth Polson and Miller Newton for their able assistance with this post.  I know. Gads!

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