Codependents and Adult Children of Alcoholics are prone to see the world and events in black and white. It is one way to make sense out of what really makes no sense at all. If we put a label that clearly defines something we are more equipped to deal with it. Or so we believe. When it comes to relationships, and in particular, relationships in our family or with a spouse, that becomes a big problem as a person starts to come out of the denial that there really were some problems in their family. Now that they see the dysfunction and how bad that was - it is hard to see anything "good" in the dysfunctional relationship.
My family life had love and affection. For years that is how I viewed my family. That is the only perspective I allowed myself to experience. However, it also had chronic dysfunctional problems that colored how I viewed life, myself, God, and others. It took me decades and a lot of recovery work to begin to understand that. I have detailed some of these issues in previous articles so I don't want to spend a lot of time going back to the specifics of those issues. But the challenge for me was to reconcile what I believed about my family early on with what I was learning about how my family life affected me. At times I have felt that if my family was as dysfunctional as I had come to understand, then there was no way there was much good in my childhood. Conversely if I admitted that there was some good, then the dysfunction was overstated, exaggerated or worse yet, not true at all.
There has been a lot said and thought over the last couple of decades about the concept of how your "Family of Origin" affects you. The whole "nature versus nurture" argument is one that will sure to be debated for a long time. My view falls somewhere along the lines that both who you are and what you become is based on three components: Your family of origin, your physiological makeup (your genes), and your decisions and actions about the situations and experiences you go through in life.
There are some who prefer not to deal too much in the past. I have even heard some people claim that looking too closely at your family of origin is just an excuse for your behavior...again- my belief is more balanced than that. I suspect (translation - here comes my opinion) that people who insist that looking backwards is of no value really means that they are scared to death to deal with what is in their past. We in the recovery world deal with that in the first step - it's called "denial". But I am no expert.
I have done a lot of work over the last decade or so delving deep into my family of origin in several ways in order to overcome my hurts, habits, and hang-ups. It has been a very scary, rewarding, uncomfortable, and healing experience. It has probably been the biggest component to my overall healing and on-going recovery.
Dysfunction is not measurable. That is because dysfunction is different for each family. Here is a definition I have read and used in past articles:
"Family dysfunction can be any condition that interferes with healthy family functioning. Most families have some periods of time where functioning is impaired by stressful circumstances (death in the family, a parent's serious illness, etc.). Healthy families tend to return to normal functioning after the crisis passes. In dysfunctional families, however, problems tend to be chronic and children do not consistently get their needs met. Negative patterns of parental behavior tend to be dominant in their children's lives."
Virginia Satir is one of the key figures in the development of family therapy. She believed that a healthy family life involved an open and reciprocal sharing of affection, feelings, and love. In her estimation 95% of families are dysfunctional. I believe that number is a little low...
I do want to share that I have had some very encouraging experiences in dealing with my family of origin lately due to some challenging circumstances, a lot of recovery work, and some very supportive friends in my life.
Going back to visit my family has always been uncomfortable in different degrees over the last 20 or so years. There have been times I have literally drove for hours to see my family only to get there and be so overwhelmed with negative memories and emotions that I immediately began to make plans to go see or do something else with somebody or anybody else I knew in that city.
Sadly the last few times I have gone back to my family it has been to see my father who just passed away after a long battle with cancer. The good news is that I had been able to make my peace with him before he passed and that was necessary and right. Something else happened as I went back that was very encouraging. And it was someone else who saw it in me and brought it to my attention. Dianne is the love of my life. We share a connection I can't say I have shared with someone else as deeply. We share a lot of similarities in our recovery journey which has been a tremendous blessing. The last several visits to my family she has accompanied me.
One of the most encouraging things I have been able to experience in visiting is that I am more comfortable with myself and therefore more comfortable around others. When it comes to being at home with my family I have been more able to visit and be "there" and be connected to what is going on in my family -emotionally and in my thoughts. One of the reasons is that I have been able to accept that both good and bad occurred in my family. I have been able to acknowledge both parts.
At my father's funeral I was asked to share some thoughts about him. It was a very healthy experience to be able to share some very positive encouraging memories about my dad that I truly believed in my heart. At the same time I did not feel like I was betraying the actual dysfunction that existed in our relationship by sharing some extremely good things in our relationship.
Sometimes black and white can exist together without becoming an unidentifiable shade of grey.
For more information about Adrian's Journey in overcoming anger go to: http://www.recoverandheal.com
San Deigo, California