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Posts tagged ‘family roles’

8 Steps to Break a Cycle of Family Dysfunction

SOURCE:  TIM SANFORD/Boundless

Destructive relationship patterns can get passed down from one generation to the next.

Here’s how you can set a new precedent for your future family.

Boys who witness domestic violence in their own home are three times more likely to become batterers.[1]

Children of alcoholics … are much more likely to perpetuate the cycle of alcoholism in their own lives … they have a four-fold increased risk of becoming alcoholics as adults compared with the general population.[2]

One’s dysfunctional personal behavior becomes a model or example to the next generation, and the cycle can be repeated over and over again.[3]

Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems.[4]

Yeah, that’s what you read on Google. But do destructive, hurtful and dysfunctional relationship patterns really get passed down from one generation to the next?

The answer is simple — YES.

Why?

That answer is simple, too.

In elementary school you learned one plus one equals two. What would you teach a first-grade class if you were the substitute teacher for arithmetic?

One plus one equals two.

That’s what I taught my daughters. But there was no way I was going to teach them anything about microbiology. I don’t know anything about microbiology. Besides, knowing nothing about the subject means I don’t know what I don’t know. A huge part of what keeps destructive behaviors going is individuals who don’t know they’re dysfunctional and don’t know they don’t know. We pass on through words, actions and attitudes — consciously or not — what we know. We can’t pass on what we don’t know.

“(I) …the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of whose who hate me …” (Exodus 20:5, emphasis added). Dysfunction does beget dysfunction.

But that’s not fair.

Right, it’s not fair. Ever since sin invaded the world of humanity, few things in life have been fair. People get hurt when they didn’t do anything to deserve it. People who intentionally hurt others seem to get away with it. The most unfair circumstances occur when helpless children get injured by parents who are supposed to be their protectors.

So yelling at my girlfriend isn’t my fault because that’s what my dad did to me.

Slow down, and be extremely careful. If you blame your father, he could blame his father who could blame his father. We could go all the way back to Noah and blame him. After all, he’s the one who built the ark and saved the human race. If he hadn’t, your father’s father’s father’s father wouldn’t have been born. Nobody would have yelled at anybody. So it’s all Noah’s fault.

Lousy logic and faulty theology, because it’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and.

Follow me on this. When your father yelled at you, who did the yelling (the dysfunctional action)?

My father.

That yelling is your father’s fault. He’s the one guilty of yelling at you.

When you yell at your girlfriend, who’s doing the yelling this time?

I guess I am.

This yelling episode is your fault. Your father “dealt you a bad hand” (not fair, true). Still, it’s up to you how you play those cards. The actions that follow are yours. You had no control over your father’s actions toward you. You do have control over whether you repeat the cycle — or not.

Can this cycle truly be broken?

This answer is simple, too: Yes, it can.

Keep reading the Exodus passage quoted above. God follows up the punishment declaration with verse six, “…but (God) showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (emphasis added). Dysfunction begets dysfunction. So, too, function begets function, health begets health, and truth begets truth.

So how do I change?

1. Become aware of your family’s destructive relationship patterns. This is the first step in moving toward healthy functioning. You can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t change what you’re not aware of. Awareness is a big first step.

And it’s highly likely you’re not aware. You truly don’t know, so ask around. Seek out individuals who you think are healthy and stable, and ask them what questions are the good questions to ask. You may decide to seek professional therapy to help you see what you aren’t able to see on your own.

2. Take ownership of your own actions, attitudes, beliefs and emotions. Admit, “It’s my problem. I need help. I’m the one needing an attitude adjustment. I may be the one who’s wrong in this situation.” Whether you know all your dysfunctional ways or not, take responsibility for the ones you know.

3. Purposely observe, compare and contrast other families’ interactions with how your family handles similar situations. Have you noticed other family groups who — in your way of thinking — are just plain weird? They don’t overreact to anything it seems. They speak their minds. They listen and actually hear each other. None of this is how your family interacted. That’s what makes it seem so weird to you. What do they do? How do they interact? What do they believe that makes them different and more stable or healthy?

4. Do Google searches on:

  • The rules of dysfunctional family systems
  • Family roles or scripts
  • Read up on what it means to be the: Addict, Enabler, Hero, Scapegoat, Clown or the Lost Child. Which one sounds like you?
  • Codependency/enabling
  • Adult attachment pain
  • Adult children of alcoholics — even if there was no alcohol in your house
  • Boundaries in relationships
  • Signs somebody may be manipulating in a relationship

As you read, identify the things that fit your life story. Take notes on ways to change the unhealthy things you learned as a child. Ask yourself:

  • What is healthy in a friendship?
  • What is an accurate way for me to see me?
  • How am I supposed to treat a person of the opposite sex?
  • What is my belief system? How do I think? What do I think?
  • What assumptions do I have, and what perceptions do I cling to so tightly?

5. Evaluate your present relationships. Are they going smoothly and benefiting both parties? Do you know what healthy boundaries are, and do you keep them? How would the other party answer these same questions?

6. Read Proverbs. It identifies many healthy — and unhealthy — ways of living and relating. Ask God to open your eyes and mind to what true and healthy living looks like and what changes you need to make.

Do all these things with the goal of becoming aware of and changing the dysfunctional ways you learned as a child.

7. Practice. Healthy living is learned experientially. Awareness and understanding is your starting place. Now it’s practice, practice, practice. It’s not natural, yet it will be.

With practice comes “trial and error” which means there will be some “errors” in your practicing. That’s normal; it’s OK. This brings us to the last point.

8. Be patient with yourself and others. Patience is one of the functional ways of dealing with the world.

“But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17, emphasis added).

You’re not condemned to repeat how your parents parented. You don’t have to be a 25-year veteran of healthy living before you pass functional relationship patterns on to the next generation. All you need to be is one step ahead of where they are.

It takes one generation to turn the tide from God’s punishment to one of God’s love being passed down. That’s all — just one. Start here. Start now.

It’s never too late to move from dysfunction to function.

Never.


REFERENCES

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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.

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Children and Spouses of Troubled Families

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

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

*The Children — Many children of dysfunctional families (termed CODF’s) have to cope with baffling and painful situations.  Children who are subjected to abuse of different kinds may receive little or no help from others, mainly because their teachers, neighbors, and church leaders may not realize their plight.  Without assistance from others, children try to fix themselves.  Clumsily, with childish hands, they suture the wounds, often leaving ugly scars or unhealed lesions that split open in later life.  All of this is an attempt to protect themselves from the abuse.  The home has the power to produce angry, rebellious, or disheartened children.  Families can aggravate serious psychological disorders.  Kids under stress can develop an abundance of physical and emotional problems even while in the womb.  Many scientists how believe that stress can program a fetus to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other disorders in adulthood.  So sensitive is the brain to its environment that absence of emotional warmth can kill brain cells.  The loss of these cells is devastating during a child’s early years, when brain connections require learning skills for language, math, and getting along with others. As infants, if anything interferes with bonding with their mothers, they may have permanent emotional scars that will influence the outcome of the remainder of their development.  The extent of the damage done to CODF’s depends on lots of factors, for example, when in the life of the child the parent became addicted, how the family reacted to it, how long the addiction continued, and the severity of the abuse and neglect.

Thankfully, despite the severity of the situation, not all of these children will be severely wounded.  Psychologists call them resilient or stress-resistant children. Some CODF’s may have a strong orientation toward personal growth.  They are able to initiate and intentionally engage in the process of self-change.  Second, they may possess a trait termed hardiness.  Hardy people are actively involved in living, believing they can control their circumstances.  Some kids are less affected by their stressful family life because of the presence of another adult in their lives.

The children of troubled families may sometimes feel frustrated and unable to control their own lives. Their helplessness may be compounded by a feeling of failure.  This is due to their trying to solve the problem in their family.  Kids feel responsible for their parents’ problems partly because they are so egocentric, believing they are the cause of most everything that happens around them.  But they also may think they are to blame for the problem because the troubled parent tells them they are.  Taking such responsibility on themselves is usually destructive to children because they are doomed to failure.  Without someone explaining to them that they shouldn’t take the weight of the family on their shoulders, they may continue to do this into adulthood and even have trouble stopping then.  Their failure to solve the family’s problems may make them angry.  Thinking their good behavior will make their parents break free from their dependency or compulsion, they may be upset when they don’t get the hoped for results.  Their anger may take the form of resentment.

Expressing anger is complicated by the attachment the child has for the parents.  Besides needing the parents’ care, children are taught to love and respect them, making it very hard to accept the anger and hatred they feel.  Feelings are mixed – love and hate, pity and disgust, anger and sympathy.  The child plays the same Jeckyll-Hyde role the troubled parent is playing. Fear may also keep children from directing anger toward the parent.  And the “don’t feel, don’t talk” rules will make them keep their anger bottled up inside of them.  This may cause them to resort to sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, and other passive-aggressive behaviors.  They may also overreact to normal events and become extremely angry with people who haven’t done anything to deserve such a reaction.

One way CODF’s express anger is by reverting back to an earlier stage of development.  Also, a child may make light of the stressful situation at home or resort to humor to handle it. Additionally, children may be deeply hurt by a parent’s abusive ranting and raving and lack what are known as “self-soothing” abilities.  They lack inner resources to calm themselves in the face of severe stress and intense emotions.  Finally, children in stressful situations may develop a false self.  Instead of the addicted parent’s encouraging the children to express themselves and commending them for it, the parent’s behavior demands that they become something else.  If the parent is also physically or sexually abusive, the squelching of the child’s personality can be extremely severe.

Shame is another emotion that inhibits children’s development of their true self.  Theirs is not a shame for what they have done, but for who they are—an absence of self-respect.  The time between eighteen months to three years is a time when a child gains a sense of autonomy.  Restricting the child, as dysfunctional families are prone to do, may make them doubt and dislike themselves.  Guilt feelings may also develop very early from ages three to six.  In an addictive family, the children may receive little affirmation for their ventures and be blamed for innocent mistakes, causing them to feel guilty for attempts to exert themselves.

They will also be shamed by the embarrassing activities of their parents.  Their shame may also be due to the fact that all children tend to identify with their parents.  Of course, constant parental criticism may result in children’s having little self-respect.  When little children are verbally harangued by their parents, told they are worthless or bad, they will believe these things.  They lack the maturity to realize these messages are lies of an evil, addicted, compulsive person.

Trust will almost always be a problem for the dysfunctional family’s children, too.  Consistent care teaches them that they can rely on others.  If their care is sporadic, harsh, or unkind, they learn to mistrust, making it difficult for them later to form close relationships.  Distracted and disturbed, a dysfunctional family may early breed mistrust in children.  The inconsistency of the wet-dry cycle probably is enough to instill distrust in a child.  Children in dysfunctional families are often compulsive and have a tendency to become addicted to something.  Or they may turn to an addiction as an escape from pain.  The enmeshed family system has taught them to depend on things outside themselves for happiness and satisfaction.  Additionally, children of dysfunctional families are often obsessed with pleasing others.

CODF’s cast themselves in various roles.  The child may choose the role as a survival tactic, or, because each role performs a function in the family system, the system itself will force the child into the part.  Sometimes a specific child will play more than one role or through time switch from one to another.  These roles help the family maintain its dysfunctional homeostasis and can eventually be harmful to the children.  The following are various roles:

Chief Enabler – shelters the addict from consequences of his or her behavior; cost to them is martyrdom;

Family Hero – keeps family’s self-worth, acts as family counselor; cost is a compulsive drive;

Family Scapegoat – diverts attention from the addict; cost is possible self-destructive behavior and often addiction;

Lost child – escapes family stress by emotional and physical separation; cost is social isolation;

Family Mascot – diverts attention from the addict by humor; cost is immaturity and/or emotional illness.

Family members learn “addictive logic” to deny the chaos.  They learn to lie and say the problem doesn’t exist so as not to betray the family.  To survive in an addictive system, children learn to deny healthy responses that tell them they are in danger; they have to keep increasing these dishonest coping skills as their situation worsens.  Also, a torrent of negative thoughts may be coursing through children’s innocent minds:  “I can’t do anything right; I am a failure; I’m not loved; I will be abandoned; I am ugly and bad…etc.”  They desperately need someone to tell them these are lies and help them see the truth about themselves and their families.

*The Spouses — Being married to an addict can be like a ride on a roller coaster – terrifying.  Life is chaotic and unpredictable, up one day, down the next, depending on how the spouse is behaving.  Emotions fluctuate and are mixed.  The dry period, when life is on the upside, inspires hope that it will last, along with nagging fear that it won’t.  In cases of spousal abuse, the cycle is well documented:  abuse followed by remorse followed by forgiveness followed by abuse followed by remorse, and so on.  The same happens in addictive marriages:  The husband manifests an addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober and pleads for forgiveness.  The wife forgives, and the two are reconciled.  The husband manifests the addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober, and on and on.  The spouse will probably be experiencing many of the same emotions as the children – fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, and the like.  Some will hate their husband or wife, their bitterness created out of years of broken promises and neglect.  Spouses will also blame themselves for their partner’s problem.  Shame too can be intense.  And to cover his or her embarrassment, the husband or wife of the troubled person will strive hard to make a contribution outside the home.  He or she may be driven to succeed in the workplace.  Some will devote themselves to social work or church ministry.  The marriage relationship will deteriorate.  Feelings of love that were likely present in the beginning of the marriage will slowly die as the partner’s addiction progresses.

Three of the most important marital resources – respect, reciprocity, and reliability – will be challenged.  Respect involves conveying to another person (through words, deeds, or simply being present) that the other is of value.  By their irresponsible behavior and neglect of family duties, addicts and the like will not be likely to keep this resource in their relationship.  Reciprocity in relationships refers to the balance of giving and receiving care and consideration.  Not much fairness will be felt in a dysfunctional family where the weight of maintaining the family falls on the addict’s spouse and/or children.  Reliability refers to the expectation that the person will be there for us on an ongoing, fairly consistent basis.  Broken promises and no-shows will destroy this resource.  An addiction, like any other violation of the relationship bond, will chip away at trust.  People married to the addiction/compulsive behavior often convey to their partners that they are not important.  This deterioration of the marriage and emotional struggles of the spouse will sometimes diminish his or her capacity to parent.  Sometimes the spouse, wrestling with the partner’s addiction/behavior, will dump his or her responsibilities on the children.  Because of this neglect, some adult children are angry at the spouse of their addictive/compulsive parent more than they are the one with the addiction/compulsion.

*The Role of Codependency — Codependency is another form of enmeshment.  The spouse of the troubled individual is referred to as the “co-addict.”  This can be described as one person’s addictive patterns aligning themselves with another’s so that there is some degree of systemic collusion or addictive pattern.  Essentially, a codependent is related to another in an unhealthy way.  One person cares so completely for the other that he or she neglects himself or herself, living almost entirely for the other person.  Being an enabler is sometimes part of such a relationship.  Enablers don’t usually consciously do things to help their partner continue his or her destructive behavior.  In fact they will probably attack their partner’s problem with a vengeance, doing everything possible to get him or her to straighten out. Yet, at the same time, they will do things that facilitate their spouse’s behavior.  For example, they will protect their spouse from the consequences of his or her actions:  phoning his boss to report him sick when he can’t go to work because of the addictive behavior; giving money to a wife who has a money related addictive problem; making excuses to the kids for a parent’s absence, and so on.  Then, too, the partners contribute to the addicts’ problem by facilitating the reorganization of the family around them.  Children, too, can play the role of codependent.

Codependents sacrifice unnecessarily and to the detriment of others as well as themselves.  Following Jesus’ example, Christians are encouraged to make sacrifices, but they are not to make senseless ones.  Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself benefited others.  But the codependent’s sacrifices are harmful to the one for whom they are made.  It is not really loving.  Love, as conceived in the New Testament, is concern and care for a person’s highest good.  Preventing an addicted/compulsive spouse from suffering their own consequences is not showing this type of concern and care.  This troubled spouse needs to see the results of his/her lifestyle and choices.  As Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”  Love is sometimes expressed by not doing something for someone.  Also, codependents need to understand that it is not wrong to care for themselves.  As indicated in Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 19:19, we are commanded to respect others as we respect ourselves.

Some write that codependency is defined as “a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  By this, they mean that people who live in enmeshed families develop a tendency to live this way in general, even with people outside the family.  Symptoms include the following:

* Thoughts and attitudes dominated by the other person: “I think more about your life than mine.”

* Self-esteem related to the other person: “I value your opinion more than my own; I need to help you in order to feel good about myself; I need to be needed.”

* Emotions are tied to the other person: “When you are hurting, I often react more deeply than you do.”

* Interests geared to the other person: “I know more clearly what you want than what I want.”

* Relationship to others is affected by the other person: “I neglect my friends to get overly involved in fixing you; I am compulsive about pleasing others, yet I get upset by their demands on me.”

In selecting a mate, some men and women seem to be attracted to a person who needs their care.  Besides the obvious shortcomings, one major problem of this type of relationship is the powerful dependence these partners have on each other.  They become so enmeshed that they seem unable to function as individuals.  They become so intertwined that it becomes difficult for the other to leave the relationship regardless of how dysfunctional it is.  Codependents will have considerable psychological distress.  They will suffer from poor self-esteem, since they may feel little worth apart from what is derived from rescuing others.  They will also suffer from an extreme need to be needed, making them depressed when they feel they are not.  Also they may have an unhealthy willingness to suffer, somehow believing that suffering for someone will make that person love them; being a martyr will make them feel rewarded.

Despite codependents’ sorry state of affairs, they will have a strong resistance to change.  Leaving the troubled spouse, even as a step toward healing, accountability, and re-creation of the marriage,  is not an option, because they fear feeling guilty, living alone, or not being able to make it financially.

In conclusion, when we or our families experience trouble, we must call upon the Divine weapons and resources that God has provided us.  We must remember that we cannot face the vast array of past and present problems on our own. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord since we don’t know how to deal with these things (2 Chron 20:12b).  He has the willingness and power to do the impossible, demolish the past and present strongholds that have enslaved us, and make us to be who He created us to be (Phil 2:12; Luke 1:37; 2 Cor 10:3-5).

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