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Posts tagged ‘Dysfunctional Families’

19 Lasting Effects of Abandoning or Emotionally Unavailable Parents

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

Dysfunctional families and parents come in many styles and carry out many different dynamics. One of the most damaging styles or dynamic is one where as a child you are abandoned or you live in fear of abandonment. This can be actual physical abandonment or emotional abandonment. Threats of abandonment are damaging also and are also common in these families. You may have lived in fear of being abandoned if you did not please your parent or caregiver.

This fear often manifests itself as depression as you feel helpless to control the impending abandonment. You may have suffered stomach-aches or headaches as a child, signs of anxiety. You may not have known if the threats were real or if your parents were using these threats as a disciplinary technique. As a child you really shouldn’t have to think about that. You ideally would be in a safe and nurturing environment where your behavior was corrected in a constructive manner.

This parenting dynamic can be carried out by one parent or both. When parents fight with each other and one then threatens to leave all the time it creates fear and uncertainty. When a parent storms out of the house in anger you wonder if they are coming back.

If you are adopted or are from a step family or divorced family where one of your parents did not uphold contact or care with you after leaving you may suffer from attachment disorders or other emotional difficulties having to do with abandonment. You may have blamed yourself for the parent not sticking around. You feel if you had been “better” your parent would still be there.

Even the death of a parent can trigger symptoms, as well as the loss of a parent who is hospitalized for long periods. Even though this situation was not deliberate by your parent, it may have felt like you had been abandoned. If everyone in the family was focused on the ill person, your emotional needs and fears may not have been addressed.

When actually abandoned, the idea or core belief is established that you are unlovable or unwanted.

If your parents used this technique to discipline it is likely that they suffered from an attachment disorder or other emotional difficulty themselves, starting in their own childhood. It was imprinted on them also that if you don’t please the parent, love may be withheld. A belief that they then passed on to you.

If you grew up under these conditions you may not handle separation well, as you expect to be abandoned. That pending abandonment feeling can be fueled by very subtle things, like your partner being distracted or non-attentive. When in relationships, there is a pervasive feeling and belief that the other person will eventually be gone. These trust issues tend to hang on for life if not addressed.

Here are some examples of the kinds of statements heard in these dysfunctional households:

  • I am going to call the orphanage and give you away if you don’t behave
  • I am going to call the snake farm and see if they’re hungry today.
  • I don’t care what you do; I give up on you.
  • Do you want me to stop this car and put you out?
  • You can all stay here, I am leaving. Fend for yourselves.

Below are 19 emotional difficulties commonly experienced by adult children of abandoning/emotionally unavailable parents:

  1. Abusive relationship
  2. Anxiety Disorders or symptoms
  3. Attachment Disorders
  4. Borderline Personality Disorder
  5. Care-taking and Codependency
  6. Chaotic Lifestyle
  7. Clingy/needy behavior
  8. Compulsive behaviors may develop
  9. Depression
  10. Desperate relationships/relationships that happen too fast
  11. Disturbances of mood, cannot self-regulate and experiences emotions in extreme
  12. Extreme jealousy and possessiveness
  13. Lack of confidence, self-esteem issue
  14. May be poor at self-soothing
  15. People-pleasing behaviors to detriment of self.
  16. Poor coping strategies
  17. Promiscuity
  18. Relationship problems
  19. Trust issues

If any of these describe you or if you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions it is likely that you feel bad about yourself. You may be being treated for a biochemical disorder or feel you have a mental illness. The sad part is that given what you experienced, how your brain dealt with it is normal. That is the way anyone would feel when abandoned. It does not mean something is wrong with you. It means something was wrong with your caregivers care-taking abilities and it created emotional distress for you.

Your brain developed coping mechanisms designed to protect you. It developed distrust in order to not be hurt again. It developed anxiety to be watchful for the same reasons and so on. It told you to develop strategies for hanging on to people so you wouldn’t be left alone. Even if those strategies might not be great for you in the long run. Remember, the underlying powerful emotion driving these developments is fear. Fear can make us do funny things. Not funny ha ha but funny as in hard to explain.

Understanding this is critical to your well-being. It does not mean you have to reject, confront, blame or punish your parents in some way. It just means you have to gain insight into what was the true starting point of your current emotional difficulties in order to develop a clear path to feeling better. As a child you couldn’t do much to escape your distress but as an adult you can conquer it by understanding its roots and putting it in it’s place.

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God’s Mercy in Messed Up Families

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to find an example of what we would call a “healthy family” in the Bible?

It’s a lot easier to find families with a lot of sin and a lot of pain than to find families with a lot of harmony.

For example, here’s just a sampling from Genesis:

  • The first recorded husband and wife calamitously disobey God (Genesis 3).
  • Their firstborn commits fratricide (Genesis 4:8).
  • Sarah’s grief over infertility moves her to give her servant, Hagar, to Abraham as a concubine to bear a surrogate child (Genesis 16). When it happens, Sarah abuses Hagar in jealous anger. Abraham is passive in the whole affair.
  • Lot, reluctant to leave sexually perverse Sodom, his home, has to be dragged out by angels and then weeks later his daughters seduce him into drunken incest (Genesis 19).
  • Isaac and Rebecca play favorites with their twin boys, whose sibling rivalry becomes one of the worst in history (Genesis 25).
  • Esau has no discernment. He sells his birthright for soup (Genesis 25), grieves his parents by marrying Canaanite women (Genesis 26), and nurses a 20-year murderous grudge against his conniving younger brother.
  • Jacob (said conniver) manipulates and deceives his brother out of his birthright (Genesis 25) and blessing (Genesis 27).
  • Uncle Laban deceives nephew Jacob by somehow smuggling Leah in as Jacob’s bride instead of Rachel (Genesis 29). This results in Jacob marrying sisters — a horrible situation (see Leviticus 18:18). This births another nasty sibling rivalry where the sisters’ competition for children (including giving their servants to Jacob as concubines) produce the twelve patriarchs of Israel (Genesis 30).
  • Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by the pagan, Shechem, who then wants to marry her. Simeon and Levi respond by massacring all the men of Shechem’s town (Genesis 34).
  • Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, can’t resist his incestuous desires and sleeps with one of his father’s concubines, the mother of some of his brothers (Genesis 35).
  • Ten of Jacob’s sons contemplate fratricide, but sell brother Joseph into slavery instead. Then they lie about it to their father for 22 years until Joseph exposes them (Genesis 37, 45).
  • Judah, as a widower, frequented prostitutes. This occurred frequently enough that his daughter-in-law, Tamar, whom he had dishonored, knew that if she disguised herself as one, he’d sleep with her. He did and got her pregnant (Genesis 38).

That’s just the beginning. Time would fail me to talk of:

  • Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10),
  • Gideon’s murderous son, Abimelech (Judges 9),
  • Samson’s un-Nazirite immorality (Judges 14–16),
  • Eli’s worthless sons (1 Samuel –2-4),
  • Samuel’s worthless sons (1 Samuel 8),
  • David’s sordid family (2 Samuel 11–18),
  • Wise Solomon who unwisely married 1,000 women, turned from God, and whose proverbial instruction went essentially unheeded by most of his heirs (1 Kings 11–12),
  • Etc., etc.

Why is the Bible loud on sinfully dysfunctional families and quiet on harmonious families?

Well, for one thing, most families aren’t harmonious. Humanity is not harmonious. We are alienated — alienated from God and each other. So put alienated, selfish sinners together in a home, sharing possessions and the most intimate aspects of life, having different personalities and interests, and a disparate distribution of power, abilities, and opportunities, and you have a recipe for a sin-mess.

But there’s a deeper purpose at work in this mess. The Bible’s main theme is God’s gracious plan to redeem needy sinners. It teaches us that what God wants most for us is that we 1) become aware of our sinfulness and 2) our powerlessness to save ourselves, as we 3) believe and love his Son and the gospel he preached, and 4) graciously love one another. And it turns out that the family is an ideal place for all of these to occur.

But what we often fail to remember is that the mess is usually required for these things to occur. Sin must be seen and powerlessness must be experienced before we really turn to Jesus and embrace his gospel. And offenses must be committed if gracious love is to be demonstrated. So if we’re praying for our family members to experience these things, we should expect trouble.

Family harmony is a good desire and something to work toward. But in God’s plan, it may not be what is most needed. What may be most needed is for our family to be a crucible of grace, a place where the heat of pressure forces sin to surface providing opportunities for the gospel to be understood and applied. And when this happens the messes become mercies.

My point is this: if your family is not the epitome of harmony, take heart. God specializes in redeeming messes. See yours as an opportunity for God’s grace to become visible to your loved ones and pray hard that God will make it happen.

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Addictive/Compulsive Families

SOURCE:  Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

An addictive or compulsive family member troubles the whole family, just as an injured part of the body affects the whole person.  So too family members will compensate for an addicted/compulsive’s erratic and unreliable conduct by behaving in ways that might worsen the situation.  This may shock spouses and children who thought all their problems would go away once the alcoholic stopped drinking or the workaholic took more time off.  They were not aware that the whole family, not just the addict, would need to be fixed.

Dysfunctional Family Organization

Typically a troubled family organizes itself around the troubled person with the person becoming the center around which family members orbit.  Families need leadership, the kind that empowers its members to express themselves and mature.  The kind of control discussed here results in demoralizing family members and stifling their growth.  When family life is regulated by such persons, their chaotic, unpredictable, unmanaged life creates a chaotic, unpredictable, unmanaged household.  Individual family members’ behavior becomes tied to the troubled person.  The tension family members feel makes them describe living at home like “walking on eggshells.”  The family’s adjustment to the addiction or compulsive behavior of one of their members is similar to their accommodating themselves to a parent’s working schedule.  The effort to make these adjustments is what family systems experts call a process of homeostasis.  The family adjusts itself to keep things stable when circumstances disrupt family life.  When one person’s behavior changes drastically, the family will adjust to that.  They’ll do this for addicts because they care about them and because his or her welfare is tied to their own.

Because the family members are bound together with the abuser, they cannot simply ignore him or her.  The troubled person’s erratic, irresponsible behavior becomes unsettling, serious, even traumatic, and family members feel they must do something to get the person to gain control of himself or herself.  They will try any commonsense thing to get the person to stop – plead with or threaten him or her, cry, and tell the person how badly they feel.  And if those tactics don’t work, they pour the person’s liquor down the drain or send someone to the bar to tell the drinker to come home.  Some of these strategies may work, especially in the case of someone whose addiction problems are not terribly out of control.  But if these efforts don’t work and the problem persists, the family will make subtle, slow adjustments to accommodate the addict’s behavior, even though they don’t approve of it.

These families will alter their life in a number of areas including:

*Routines – through routines families maintain some stability and order.  A strong family is one where these routines are consistently carried out.  When families allow their routines to be determined by someone who is out of control, like an addict, the family behavior will become as inconsistent and chaotic as the addict’s life.

*Rituals — Rituals are routines with an added ingredient – significance.  Rituals govern the way the family carries out important activities, like praying together, celebrating special occasions, etc.  For an example, a mother with an anger problem, under stress of preparing a Thanksgiving Dinner, might lose control of her temper, dampening the family’s holiday mood.  If these become regular holiday occurrences, families will begin to expect them and do what they can to lessen the impact.  When rituals are modified, their significance may be greatly diminished.  Rituals are ruined when the emotions and meanings associated with them are supplanted by the anger and disappointment of having to deal with the problem behavior.  It should be noted that all of these alterations in the family are designed to deal with the troubled parent’s behavior not by ignoring it or continuing in spite of it but changing to accommodate it.  Families least likely to reproduce addicts were those who did not permit the troubled person’s presence to disrupt the family’s routines and rituals.  They distanced themselves instead of accommodated themselves.

*Problem-Solving Procedures – Besides routines and rituals, the family also tries to regulate itself by modifying its problem-solving procedures.  These modifications involve doing things to bring a member back into line if that person threatens the family’s stability.  Troubled families may use two distinct problem-solving methods.  First, they vigilantly guard the status quo, because they tend to be unusually sensitive to any destabilization of the family.  Once the family has stabilized around the out-of-control person, they appear to be uncommonly threatened by any other change.  Dysfunctional families are generally rigid.  Strong families are flexible.  As children get older and conditions change in the family, the family needs to adjust.  Many of these changes are related to the family’s life phases.  All change (good and bad) is stressful, and it can be both good and bad at the same time – like the birth of a child, for example.  Arriving at a life stage may trigger a crisis in the family if it is too rigid to handle it properly.  The second distinct feature of the troubled family’s problem-solving procedure is using the problem person’s behavior to assist the family in dealing with problems.  If this happens, the addictive problem becomes a part of the family’s normal functioning.  This has major implications when, for example, an addict stops drinking.  The alcohol that has become necessary for the family to function is now gone.  Learning how to operate without it may become very difficult for all of them.

*Family Devastation – These changes are especially devastating because the family’s stability now depends on the continued behavior by the addict.  This insight helps us understand why it is crucial that the family system change when treating an addictive/compulsive behavior.  Otherwise, the system will continue to pressure the troubled persons to stay as they are.  Despite the conscious wish to see the troubled person change, family members may have an unconscious desire to have the person continue as he or she is.

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