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Posts tagged ‘Family Dysfunction’

Your Family Voyage: Family Roles

SOURCE: Excerpted from the book by  P. Roger Hillerstrom/Your Family Voyage

There are two types of family roles:  formal and informal.

Formal family roles have recognizable labels of mother, father, husband, wife, student, infant, and so forth.  Our expectations for these roles are shaped by our culture and are fairly consistent.

Informal family roles are much less obvious than formal roles.  They revolve around emotional tasks that individuals carry out for the rest of the family.  These may be performed consciously, but more often they are unconscious.

The general function of all informal family roles is to regulate tension – maintain stability – within the family.  They may or may not be successful.  Tension and conflict are natural paths of any relationship.  Conflict in itself is not good or bad, right or wrong.  In many ways it may be a sign of life, growth, and progress.  Although tension is normal, how that tension is handled will determine whether it is positive or negative.  Too much conflict in a family will result in chaos; too little will result in stagnation.  Informal roles are an attempt to regulate the tension – to balance the mobile.  Through family roles each of us learns how to respond to uncomfortable emotions such as anger, hurt, and sadness.  In these roles we learn to deal with the feelings of others as well.  Long before we reach adulthood, we have learned our roles so well that they seem instinctual.

Many families cast one member as the “family hero”, or “good child” – the member the others would describe as the most successful.  The task of this member is usually to represent the family in a positive light to outsiders.  The “good child” tends to be the ultra-responsible member who does things “correctly”.  This is often one of the older siblings who take on parental responsibilities for the younger children.  The terms caring, considerate, competent, and dependable are usually good descriptions for people in this role.

While almost every family will have a member with a number of these positive traits, the characteristics will be more pronounced in families with dysfunctions.  The more profound the dysfunction, the more pronounced the role.  We see this role emerging most prominently in families where one or both parents are negligent.  Alcoholism, abuse and mental illness generally create emotional voids into which this member steps.

Family heroes grow up learning to fulfill the expectations placed on them, which for a variety of reasons have been high.  Appearances are important to them.  It is also very important for the good child to do the “right” thing in any situation.  “To be right is good and to be wrong is bad, and it’s terrible to be bad”.  This perspective on life can make an individual very controlled and very controlling.  Heroes often find it difficult to relax and be spontaneous.  Family heroes have a strong need to please authority figures and are generally pretty good at it.

The family hero is a child who is fairly independent of the family in his or her success – the athlete, scholar, or musician.  Success is measured by how he or she projects himself or herself to outsiders.  This child’s emotional bond to other family members is generally not as close as other “good children”.  Typically, this child’s closest relationships are with people outside the family.

The Lieutenant is the child who takes on some or all of the parental responsibilities for the siblings.  This role of “lieutenant” may develop out of obedience to the directives from parents or to fill a void left by irresponsible, negligent, preoccupied or otherwise unavailable parents.  This child’s success is measured primarily by how he or she interacts within the family.

The Rescuer is the child who has taken over one particular aspect of parenting, that of nurturing – encouraging, supporting, and caring for siblings – becomes the “rescuer”.  Usually this is a job taken on because no one else was doing it.  The negative side of this role is that someone else must have a problem or be in pain for the rescuer to function.

Family heroes tend to carry these traits into adulthood.  Outwardly they are productive, hardworking, motivated, and self-controlled.  They often live with a vague sense of guilt over what they cannot accomplish.  Their strong need to please everyone leads to patterns of over-commitment and unrealistic expectations for themselves, which often result in unfulfilled commitments, half-completed tasks, or exhaustion.  These in turn lead to more guilt.  Family heroes experience failure as rejection.  Their response to rejection is to work harder.  It is difficult for these over-responsible “children” to maintain a realistic assessment of their own capabilities.  Most never had the chance to learn that they could fail and still be loved.  Their sense of acceptance and belonging became dependent on good performance.  Heroes also tend to be difficult to get close to emotionally.  They don’t let their guards down very easily.  Looking good means feeling good and vice versa.  To become open and vulnerable to another person would mean admitting fears and shortcomings they hide even from themselves.

Frequently motivated by guilt and fear of self-perceived failure, they invest a great deal of energy in the approval of others, often compromising their own convictions, values and emotional needs to avoid the criticism they may receive by not fulfilling another person’s expectations.  The need for approval from authorities in childhood frequently develops into a “need to be needed” mentality in adulthood.  People who fall into this pattern generally become rescuers – over-responsible people who tend to be attracted to under-responsible individuals who need their help.  These roles tend to complement each other, fulfilling a number of emotional needs in each partner.

The Scapegoat Role – almost every dysfunctional family has a member who plays the role of family scapegoat.  The more severe the family dysfunction, the more obvious the scapegoat role will be.  It is the scapegoat’s job to bear the bulk of the blame for the family problems.  In this way the scapegoat reduces tension in the family.  Usually the scapegoat began the role by trying to succeed to please Mom and Dad, but for one reason or another was not able to do that.  Perhaps an older or more gifted sibling in the role of hero made competition impossible.  Perhaps the parents had unreasonable expectations and demands that promoted constant failure.  Whatever the initial cause, the scapegoat learned to believe that recognition could be achieved only through negative means.  Gradually this child began to believe that rejection and failure were a part of who he or she was.  The family member is emotionally sent away and feels as if he or she is on the outside looking in on family life.  These feelings of rejection are rarely verbalized.  A small child may express these feelings by hiding under the bed or in a far corner of the house.  A teen may become involved with peers who share similar frustrations and offer the affirmation he craves.  Alcohol or drug abuse is especially common if one or both parents have chosen the same route of escape from pressure or tension.

Though not conscious of the role, scapegoats have an uncanny way of directing blame toward themselves.  At time they may even create situations in which they can be blamed in order to minimize tension in the rest of the family.  Every member needs to achieve a feeling of belonging in the family.  Even a negative, painful role will give this sense of belonging, a place to “fit”.  It feels better to belong as a scapegoat than to feel totally alone.

Young Scapegoats.  Robert and Mary had been married three years with a fourteen-month-old son, Bobby.  During marriage counseling they discovered an interesting pattern, Bobby would sometimes act in direct disobedience to his parents.  While discussing Bobby’s discipline, they both realized that his misbehavior occurred inevitably when there was tension between the two of them.  They observed that as they began to disagree and their tone of voice rose, Bobby would do something “naughty”.  At that point his parents would stop arguing, turn their attention toward Bobby, and deal with his misbehavior.  At this point the tension was broken, and they seldom returned to their original conflict.  Bobby was learning an important lesson that all scapegoats learn:  “If this family is to survive, I must get into trouble.”  Recognizing this became the motivation Robert and Mary needed to work toward resolving their differences.  They also committed themselves to expressing affection and affirmation to each other, in Bobby’s presence, at the conclusion of their conflicts.

If one of the parents grew up as the family scapegoat, chances are good that he or she will continue that role as an adult.  If neither parent was a scapegoat but both grew up in families where scapegoats existed, they will probably “scapegoat” one of the children – often the firstborn.

If one child threatens the self-esteem of the family, perhaps due to a handicap of some sort, there is a good possibility that he or she may become designated as the “problem”.  If the child is retarded or overly intelligent, unattractive or especially attractive, or in any way “different” from the other family members, that unique quality may become a factor in that person’s becoming a family scapegoat.  The “differentness” may be a family member’s temperament.  If one member is too aggressive or too passive, too dependent or too autonomous, these factors may predispose one individual to be scapegoated.  Sometimes even being named after or resembling some past scapegoat may designate the role.  Though the roots of the role may vary a great deal, the results are remarkably similar.

Adult Scapegoats.  Like family heroes, scapegoats generally carry the characteristics they develop in childhood into adulthood and they continue to play their family role in other relationships.  The role of scapegoat served a purpose in the family of origin, even though it was negative – it served to reduce tension and give the child an identity within the family.  Yet once that role is carried outside the family, it often wreaks havoc in new relationships, as well as life in general.

Adult scapegoats often find it difficult to feel at ease in any situation.  The family scapegoat feels deeply guilty, lonely and helpless.  In spite of a desire to do well, he or she feels almost compelled toward self-defeating, self-destructive behavior, as if being swept along by a current he or she doesn’t understand, propelled by the responses of others who are often oblivious to the process.

The Mascot Role – a family mascot tends to be the focus of everyone else’s attention.  The nurturing the mascot receives is not necessarily earned or deserved.

  • Being the youngest of the siblings, especially if much younger.
  • Being the smallest or “cutest”.
  • Being more frail, disabled, or needy in some way.
  • Being the only boy in a family of girls, or vice versa.

Regardless of which attribute elicits attention, one characteristic is universal for all mascots:  less maturity and independence is expected of the mascot than of the other siblings.  The mascot can often “get away with murder.”

Adult Mascots.  Mascots learn early in life that they are likable.  They are generally talkative and sociable, often becoming “the life of the party” in groups.  They learn to use their charismatic charm advantageously.  While they may be effective in passively controlling situations, they generally do not assume leadership well and are usually uncomfortable if designated “the boss”.

As adults, mascots tend to be outgoing, spontaneous people-pleasers.  They usually reflect self-confidence and handle social situations well.  Family mascots are usually fun to be around.  Mascots have a tendency to be emotionally dependent and self-centered with a strong need for the approval of others.  They tend to relinquish responsibility easily.  They seem to assume that whatever they leave undone will somehow get done or won’t matter.  Often impulsive, their lifestyles can be chaotic and unstable.  Mascots often seem to search for partners to nurture, guide and control them.

Additional Roles.

The Lost Child – a middle childe (not first or last born), “the lost child” deals with tension by withdrawing from or avoiding the family.  This family member usually has his or her closest relationships outside the family.  The most likely to be overlooked or neglected by the family, this person finds it hard to relax in relationships because fundamental trust has never been established within the family.  In adulthood this person has difficulty drawing close to others and has few, if any, intimate relationships.  The fear of rejection tends to control a great deal of this person’s behavior.

The Mediator – the “mediator” is the family member who always seems to be in the middle of family confrontations, trying to bring the opposing sides together.  Since family members tend to rely on this person to help them resolve their own problems, his or her identity becomes very wrapped up in the needs of others.  In adulthood this person typically is well liked and has many friends.  But since most of these relationships are based on problems, he or she has few true peers and enjoys very little mutual sharing of needs.  Actually, this popular person often feels very lonely.

The Family Clown – the “family clown” deals with tension through humor.  When there is anger or conflict within the family, the family clown will crack a joke, make a snide comment, or act out some humorous antic.  Sometimes the clown will relieve family tension at his or her own expense.  When the laughter is a response to self-criticism or self-deprecation, the family is sacrificing this member to avoid its own tension.  As an adult, the family clown is very difficult to get close to emotionally because he or she has learned that emotional intensity should be avoided.  Though this person may draw many acquaintances to his or her lighthearted approach to life, intimate friendships are rare.  The family clown may be fun to be around, but you often sense that you never really know this person.

Role Changes.  Family roles are not unchangeable.  In fact, changes in formal family roles are traditionally announced and celebrated.  Weddings, graduations, baby showers, and even funerals are ways of announcing formal role changes.  Informal family roles may also change as a family grows.

Exploring informal family roles may involve more than just examining the behavior of family members.  Clues can be found in other characteristics displayed by family members.  Family nicknames can point to family roles.  An adult who still responds to a childish name may be continuing to play an old role.  This is especially true if the name is used only by the family of origin.  For example, a successful corporate vice-president whose parents and siblings continue to call him “Spanky” may have a family who wants to maintain a familiar role even though it is inconsistent with the rest of his life.

Sometimes a child will resemble an older family member who had a particular role.  Such a resemblance may be a factor in assuming or assigning that informal role.  A child who is regularly told that he looks exactly like Uncle Herman will spend time thinking about Uncle Herman.  If Uncle Herman was an alcoholic who spent twenty-five years in prison, that life scenario will affect the child’s view of himself.  If family members constantly remind the child of the resemblance, it may indicate their expectations for that child to take over the role.

A family member who has some sort of special characteristic, such as a disability or a special gift, or is known as the tallest, shortest, heaviest, strongest, angriest, or kindest person in the family may have a unique informal family role.  When you identify someone in your family with a particular role, pay attention to how various family members relate to this person – other roles may begin to emerge.

Childish Thinking – It shouldn’t surprise you that we readily accept what we are told as children.  What is amazing is that we are so slow to question these messages as we grow older.  Many of the things we learn as children are obviously untrue.  Many of them probably affect how we live, how we perceive ourselves, and how we respond to others.  Unfortunately, many of those false assumptions have never changed.

Thus it is with family roles.  We learned them in childhood, when they served a purpose.  Too often we carry them with us into adulthood and continue to play them long after their usefulness has ended.

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Family Dysfunction: The “Rigid” Family

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Living Free

“So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.Luke 15:20 NIV (Prodigal son returning)

“Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come here, my son, and kiss me.’ So he went to him and kissed him.” Genesis 27:26-27 NIV (Isaac and Jacob)

“So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him.” Exodus 18:7 NIV

“Jacob was half blind because of his age and could hardly see. So Joseph brought the boys close to him, and Jacob kissed and embraced them.” Genesis 48:10 NLT (a grandfather’s kiss)

[There are] five types of dysfunctional families (described in The Thin Disguise by Pam Vredevelt) that can lead to the development of eating disorders. Perhaps you or someone you know has a loved one struggling with an eating disorder. Or perhaps you will identify some potentially harmful characteristic that needs to be addressed in your family.

Healthy families are warm and affectionate. Rules, as well as people, are flexible. In dysfunctional “Rigid Families” flexibility is a nonexistent concept, and affection is seldom expressed. The father especially tends to be obsessive about the standards in the family. There is no warmth, no emotion. Each family member should be able to take care of himself or herself. This emotional neglect leads the child to believe that emotions and longings are wrong.

We serve a loving God who demonstrates his love for us in so many tangible ways. And so he wants us to show love through our words and actions. This is especially important in our family relationships. Our children need physical demonstrations and verbal expressions of our love. Nurturing—hugging, kissing or saying “I love you”—is so important.

[The above] Scriptures are examples of family members showing their love for one another with embraces and kisses. Appropriate, healthy demonstrations of our love for each other can mean so much in our relationships and in the emotional and spiritual development of our children.

Father, I thank you so much for my children. Thank you for demonstrating your fatherly love to me in so many ways. Help me to be warm and affectionate with my children. Help them to develop emotionally and spiritually in a way that is pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name …

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These thoughts were drawn from …

Seeing Yourself in God’s Image: Overcoming Anorexia and Bulimia by Martha Homme, MA, LPC. 

God’s Working It All Out………

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  The below commentary by D.A. Carson reminds us of the mysterious, but always sovereign ways of God.  It is helpful to be reminded of this as we experience life in a world that seems chaotically out-of-control in just about every aspect.  Carson also reminds us how the Bible so honestly portrays the truthful condition of God’s people as well as humankind — family dysfunction (see first paragraph) is nothing new.  It has been with us from the very beginning, and we all are still dealing with it. 

Praise God for His patient sovereignty as He works all out according to His will……

The Providence of God

SOURCE:  D. A. Carson  

Genesis 27 is in many ways a pathetic, grubby account. Earlier Esau had despised his birthright (25:34); now Jacob swindles him out of it. In this Jacob is guided by his mother Rebekah, who thus shows favoritism among her children and disloyalty to her husband. Esau throws a tantrum and takes no responsibility for his actions at all. Indeed, he nurses his bitterness and plots the assassination of his brother. The family that constitutes the promised line is not doing very well.

Yet those who read the passage in the flow of the entire book remember that God himself had told Rebekah, before the twin brothers were born, that the older would serve the younger (25:23). Perhaps that is one of the reasons why she acted as she did: apparently she felt that God needed a little help in keeping his prediction, even immoral help. Yet behind these grubby and evil actions God is mysteriously working out his purposes to bring the promised line to the end he has determined. Certainly God could have arranged to have Jacob born first, if that was the man he wanted to carry on the line. Instead, Esau is born first, but Jacob is chosen, as if to say that the line is important, but God’s sovereign, intervening choosing is more important than mere human seniority, than mere primogeniture.

In Matthew 26, the authorities hatch a nasty plot to corrupt justice and sort out a political problem; Judas, one of Jesus’ intimates, sells his master; Jesus is in agony in Gethsemane; he is arrested and betrayed by a kiss; the Sanhedrin condemns and brutalizes its prisoner; Peter disowns Jesus. Yet who can doubt, in the flow of the book, that God remains in sovereign control to bring about the desired end? Jesus will give his life “as a ransom for many” (20:28), and all the failures, pain, and sin in this chapter issue in redemption.

The book of Esther does not even use the word God, but here too, even Haman’s gross government-sanctioned genocide is heading toward God’s salvation. And Paul (Acts 26) apparently would have been acquitted if he had not appealed to Caesar — yet that very appeal brings him in the end to declare the Gospel at the heart of the Empire.

Providence is mysterious. It must never be used to justify wrong actions or to mitigate sin: Isaac and his family are more than a little sleazy, Judas is a deceitful wretch, Haman is vile, and the Roman court trying Paul is more than a little corrupt. Yet God sovereignly rules, behind the scenes, bringing glory out of gore and honor out of shame.

Q & A: Honoring dysfunctional parents when there is no reconciliation

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

This week’s question: I am 37 years old, happily married with three children living in a different state than my parents live. Bottom line, I’ve never had a healthy relationship with my mom – but last year we went through some terrible episodes to the point that my sister and I were concerned about her mental health and asked her to get help (she does have a history of prescription drug abuse).

Of course this only made her angry and she got very defensive. We begged my father to intervene and get help for her but instead he defended her, enabled her, and made excuses for her to the extreme. He ended up losing his job because of their behavior. His refusal to do anything about the destruction she was causing was perhaps the most hurtful thing. She was clearly unstable. Why couldn’t he see that? Wasn’t his relationship with my sister and me worth fighting for?

Having read about boundaries, I chose not to respond to her spiteful calls, emails and letters, except to say, “This is not Okay.” Or “You can’t talk to me like that and expect to have a good relationship with me or my family.” I prayed, I sought the advice of my pastor and with the support of my husband, we asked my parents to leave us completely alone until we were ready to initiate contact. They were reluctant at first but eventually did stop contacting us.

My plan was to begin a 3 week partial fast in January to discern God’s will on the best way to reestablish some sort of relationship with my parents, working toward forgiveness and trying to figure out how to “honor” them despite all the hurt they caused. I envisioned a calm confrontation regarding the way they had damaged our relationship, hoping that they’d see the damage they’d done.

Then the day before the fast, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It is a pretty treatable form of cancer, but believing it was the right thing to do, I flew out to see them and spent a tense weekend with them. I bought groceries, cooked meals and tried to honor them without saying many words. I came home feeling worse.

So here I am. I’m angry at my parents for all the horrible things they did last year. I’m angry that they now act like nothing ever happened. I feel like I can’t discuss my hurt with them now because my dad is getting chemo and my mom is stressed out with that.

Would it be cruel to add a confrontation to what they’re currently dealing with? I am angry with myself because I have very little compassion toward them regarding the cancer (and I am a pretty compassionate person). I do call and check on them once or twice a week, but our conversations are brief and superficial. I email them photos of the children. When is it going to be okay for me to talk to them about what they did? I can’t pretend like everything is fine, but I also feel like I can’t talk with them about why things aren’t fine….so how do I move forward.

Answer: I’m sorry that you are experiencing this. It is so hard when we want to do the right thing but yet we have no opportunity to address, heal and reconcile a broken relationship.

I think it would be helpful to you if you differentiated honoring your parents from having a healthy or close relationship with them. You may have to settle for the former while letting go of the latter. You indicate that you’ve never had a healthy relationship with your mom so I’m curious why are you expecting things to change now? You envisioned sitting down with them both and having this constructive conversation over what happened last year but do you really think that’s going to happen? Do you have any history of those kinds of honest conversations with your mom or mom and dad before? Or is this understandable, but wishful thinking on your part?

You said that you never noticed how unhealthy your dad was until this latest episode when you expected that he would stick up for you and your sister and instead he sided with your mother, even to his own job loss. That deeply disappointed you but my guess is that if you look over your childhood; your father has probably always been passive and deferred to your mother’s emotional state. Again why did you expect something different this time?

So the question you’re asking is: can or should you bring up this messy relationship stuff right now? My advice would be no. Going through cancer and chemo is stressful enough and it may very well be that the stress from last year of trying to manage your mother the best he knew how has already taken its toll on your dad’s immune system. I remember speaking to a man recently at a conference I was teaching and he said he didn’t realize he was in an emotionally destructive marriage until he got cancer. His body couldn’t take the stress anymore. But his cancer woke him up.

So reconciling with them in the way you want – to have an honest conversation with them in which they would hear your anger and hurt about what they did last year and apologize to you may not be possible right now, maybe not ever. So where does that leave you? Can you honor your parents through your ministry to them – just like you did with meals, phone calls, photos of the kids and have no expectations of close fellowship or relationship? I think that is possible if you do your homework.

So I recommend that you talk with someone about your anger and hurts, you definitely need to process them so you can let them go (for your sake) and forgive your parents (for your sake) while praying that someday you can fully reconcile. I’d encourage you to minister to them as you are able and honor them as your parents even if you don’t’ like them or trust them right now.

If at some point they notice that you are not overly friendly with them and they bring it up, then that would be the time to invite them into a conversation about why. You might say something like this:

“I appreciate that you’ve asked me and it’s because of what happened last year. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress with the cancer diagnosis and treatment. I love you and I’ve not wanted to upset you or bring it up but It was very hurtful to me. If you’re ready to talk about it, I’d be more than willing to do that so that we can heal our relationship.”

That short statement puts your toe in the pond of relational honesty and invites them to have a respectful but difficult conversation about what happened. Their response will let you know whether it will be a good idea to proceed or not. For example, if they show any remorse or regret over last year and say something to that effect, then you can move forward and share your feelings – constructively.
However if they get defensive, blaming or shaming when you say you were hurt by last year’s stuff, don’t go there. You are just opening yourself up for more of the same.

But I’d encourage you to pray, prepare and practice what you want to say to them so that if the door opens, you can walk through it and say what you need to in the best possible way, so that as much as possible, you’ve done all you can do to be at peace with your parents.

For more help in preparing that kind of talk, see my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.

Honor and Obey: The Dividing Line for Adult Children

SOURCE:  Sarah Bubar

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” – Ephesians 6:1

Last month during the first annual Global Action Awards, Miley Cyrus accepted an award for being an “inspiration” to young viewers. Her acceptance speech, however, left very little to be inspired about. She pled with her generation to do what makes them happy, and to “not listen to what our parents want.” No doubt this was brought on by recent interviews of Mr. Miley Cyrus (Billy Ray) talking about the erosion Hannah Montana has caused on his family.

The idea of disobeying our parents, however, has not been far from the mind of every girl in every part of the world at some moment in her life. If we are truly honest with ourselves, obeying our parents can be an active struggle, a mundane, pointless task, and even be the last thing we want to do. So why was Miley Cyrus’ plea such an outrage? What’s the big deal? Is it really that important to obey our parents?

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.”

I still recite this verse with a sing-song tone rolling my eyes at the memories it brings to my mind. My mother had us memorize this verse (she also had us memorize Eph 6:32 if that gives you an idea of the kind of children we were) and recite it during our moments of discipline. “Children, obey your parents…..(exhaustive sigh)….in the Lord….(shifting hips, rolling eyes)….for this is right.” Now that I am an adult child who at younger times “pushed the boundaries” my parents set, I see the biblical precedence and the reason behind it. As a growing child, it is important to obey your parents. But when we get older and move from childhood to womanhood, do we still have to obey? As a grown woman, at what point can I stop listening to my parents? Is there a difference between honoring & obeying?

YES. There is.

Defining Obedience

Obedience carries with it the idea of absolute submission resulting from absolute trust. Webster defines obey as meaning “to conform or comply with; to follow the commands or guidance of.” It has with it implications of completely falling under the authority and jurisdiction of another person so that this individual is now responsible for you and the things that you do. In Scripture, it is most often used in reference to a child learning something from a parent (Prov.1:8; 23:22; Col. 3:20; Eph. 6:1; Lev. 19:3, 32), or Israel learning something from Yahweh.

Defining Honor
Honoring, on the other hand, means “showing esteem and respect to a person of superior standing; evidence or symbol of distinction.” In Hebrew, it also means “to weigh” or “to make heavy.” In other words, when placing the opinion of your parents on a balancing scale opposite the opinion of your friends, your parent’s opinion is going to weigh more because you honor them.

In Scripture, honor is linked to humility (Proverbs 15:33, 18:12; 22:4; 29:23), kindness (Proverbs 21:21), and grace (Proverbs 11:16). In the New Testament, a person of honor was given the best seat in the house (Mark 12:39). Deuteronomy 5:16 shows how honoring our parents brings longevity and prosperity to our lives.

No longer little girls, we have become women who are not under the direct authority of our parents any longer. They are not responsible for us anymore. We give account for our own actions now. Yet there is still a biblical mandate to honor our parents as adults. How do we flesh this out? With humility, kindness and grace, we esteem our parents as people of superior standing, taking their advice and counsel heavier than others. That is how we honor them. For example, if I wanted to buy a new car, would I need my parent’s permission as an adult? Unless my father is my banker, no, I wouldn’t. But would I seek their counsel on the subject? Yes, and I would weigh their counsel more heavily than my friends who may just want to see me in a new flashy ride.

“But what if my parents are crazy?” I had a friend ask me this not too long ago, and for viable reasons. Her parents can seem a little to the left of certifiable. But honoring them doesn’t change simply because their mental health fluctuates. There is still a biblical call to honor them (Exodus 20:12) with kindness, humility, and grace. When looking to honor a parent who may not be emotionally stable, always approach them with respect for they are still your parent. I know this one girl whose parent continually elevates her into positions of parenting her other siblings, and it’s a real challenge for her. But I have seen her time and time again approach this parent with respect and dignity, without giving in and usurping that authority in her sisters’ lives. It’s a balancing act, but it can be done. It may mean stepping away from the situation to collect your thoughts in prayer and counsel before readdressing the matter at hand. It may mean going out of your way on special occasions to show them the care you have for them. Whatever tangible way you show it, your admiration for them should be apparent.

“But what if my parents are lost?” This can be difficult when parents are less than godly or unsaved altogether, because it requires leaning more heavily on the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to fulfill that task. But in that situation, keep in mind you are not responsible for their actions, you are only responsible for your reactions. Don’t get angry and lash out, in doing so you dishonor the status that God has given them in your life. Instead, speak with kindness to your aging parents. Show them grace – even when what they say offends. Humbly ask the Lord for His help. In doing so, you honor the work they did as parents in raising you.

“But what if my biological parents didn’t raise me, do I still have to respect them?” This, too, can be difficult because so often strained relationships are in play from the very start. Paul addresses a similar topic in Romans 12: 16 – 18 when he writes “Live in harmony with one another…Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Whether it’s your birth mom, or the crazy aunt in your family, Paul is saying to make every effort to be a peacemaker, to be kind, to allow God to work, and give grace. This rule applies when it comes to those who may not have played the role as parent, but we should still honor, regardless. After all, if it weren’t for them, you would not be here. For that reason alone, gratitude can be found.

So, why do you think God puts so much stress on honoring and obeying our parents? Is it just so all the chores get done in a home and peace can be cultivated? Or is there a bigger picture, an over-arching factor in play?

Obeying and honoring our parents develops a habit of obedience and a respect for authority in our lives; characteristics that are greatly lacking in our society as a whole.

It is vastly important to learn obedience as a child. I remember growing up, my father would tell me that if I could learn to obey him, I would learn to obey God. This made obedience more serious than chores or homework; it made it about my life and the choices I would make while I lived it. Put it this way: if, as young children we find it easy to say “no” to our parents, as adults, it will be no struggle to say “no” to God. And in doing so, we are missing out on the best He has to offer us; we, also, are welcoming his wrath and judgment into our lives.

God relates to us in terms of the family unit.

It is not by accident that God calls Himself Father and Christ his Son. It was the plan and purpose of God from creation (Gen 2:24) to establish the family unit. It is through the lens of family that God chooses to reveal his character to us. As a Father, He protects, He guides, He chastens, He provides, He nurtures, He admonishes, and He loves unconditionally. We are forever His daughters, joint-heirs with His Son. Understanding our role as children in our earthly family enables us to better understand our role in our heavenly family.

Honor & Obey. As adult children, there is a dividing line on what God expects us to do. As grown women no longer under our parent’s authority, we don’t necessarily have to do everything they tell us. We do, however, always, always have to honor them.

(Sarah Bubar is a regular contributor to Unlocking Femininity, the blog on which this post first appeared)

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Characteristics of Dysfunctional Families

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

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

*Enmeshment – This means family members become too closely bonded with each other.  Strong families connect in a balanced way.  They have a strong sense of togetherness, but it’s tempered by allowing members to be independent.  They feel close and committed to each other, but their closeness empowers them as separate persons.  Enmeshed families, in contrast, allow their connectedness to stifle individuality.  They may also swing to the opposite extreme and be so independent that the members are disengaged.

Under the control of a parent, cohesiveness is often forced on the members.  In an effort to overcome family shame, efforts are made to keep the family together.  Members are expected to be loyal – being together is not necessarily desired; it is required.  Members of strong families may get together for Christmas because they want to, but dysfunctional family members do so because they have to.  Members of strong families enjoy each other; those of troubled families tend to endure each other.  Enmeshment is often referred to as co-dependence, and it manifests itself in number of harmful ways.  Family members sometimes feel too much, depend too much on, or do too much for each other.  While some sacrifice is o.k., sacrifice can be harmful, not just to the one who is sacrificing but also to the one for whom the sacrifice is made.  Jesus, by His crucifixion, is the greatest example of sacrifice, but His sacrifice was with purpose.

*Inadequate Communication – Dysfunctional families are notorious for their poor communication.  They have the now-famous rules:  “Don’t trust; don’t feel, and don’t talk.”  A functional family has no such rules.  The rules that keep dysfunctional families from talking come from the “elephant in the living room” phenomenon. The large beast represents the family’s problem.  Fear and shame keep family members from discussing it. Initially their feelings may be so overwhelming that they deal with them by trying not to feel.  Ignoring the most important family matter causes them to ignore other feelings and thoughts as well.  Communication is superficial because of the threat of talking about their shame, fear, and depression.  The family avoids healthy conflict and urges members not to rock the boat.  Their desire for peace at all costs inhibits any authenticity, vulnerability, or transparency.  Since they are unable to talk, family members struggle to adapt and survive, employing numerous defenses to ward off the pain.  One of those defenses is denial.

*Denial and Reality Shifting – People in dysfunctional families usually have a distorted view of reality.  They see the terrible things happening in their homes, yet they don’t recognize them for what they are.  This denial takes any number of forms.  They may minimize the problem.  They may consider themselves normal.  They may delay doing anything about it, thinking the problem will eventually solve itself.  Being in denial causes people to experience what is called “reality shifting.”  This is when there is a major discrepancy between what is said and what a child experiences.  Forcing children to disregard what they experience distorts their sense of what is true and normal, causing them to live in doubt and confusion.

*Wet – Dry Cycle – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde often come to mind when referring to addicts.  They have a sober personality and an addicted one – and their families do too.  This sobriety-intoxication cycle deprives them of one of the major traits of strong families – consistency.  What is so amazing about these cycles is that the family members tend to behave like the addict.  Families are not all alike when one of the members is an addict.  While some families may feel close to each other, others may feel isolated from one another. Some may be tranquil, others combative.  Yet they definitely exhibit two states.  During the sober period, the home atmosphere may be very tense with children fearing the addict may move to his/her addiction.  The contrast between the two states can be extreme:

Dry                                                     Wet_________________

Promises Made                              Promises Broken

Overpunitive                                  Overcaring

Rigid                                                  Adaptive

This unpredictability and inconsistency can exact a toll on family members.

*Role Reversals — When one family member becomes increasingly disabled, other family members will begin to carry an extra load to keep the family going. Unlike the teamwork that exists in a healthy family, these responsibilities are unfairly distributed.  As a result, the family members bearing the burden begin to feel resentful, angry, and frustrated.  But the “don’t talk rule” keeps them from confronting the troubled member about his or her irresponsibility.  They may also suffer their hard feelings to avoid arguments and uncomfortable scenes.

*Isolation – Troubled families often lack a key factor of healthy family life – contact with those outside the house.  They are cut off from the many benefits people receive by being linked to the wider community and their contact with growth-producing relationships is limited.  Because the family members are so enmeshed with one another, outsiders threaten the precarious “balance” of co-dependency.  Also, because of their rigidity, they reject others whose ideas and practices may challenge theirs. Keeping the family secret of addiction or abuse makes them shun outsiders.  Shame about that secret inhibits their getting close to others.  In some cases, this isolation is a contributing cause of the family’s problems as well as a result.  Physical and sexual abuse can more easily happen where it is unlikely to be detected by members of the community.

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