There are some families in the world that are filled with love and connection. These families’ work together, to support and assist each other and not because they have to; but because they want to. To them, family means much more than just a word or the DNA that may connect them to each other.
Here, there is no talk or suggestion of obligations and conditions needing to be fulfilled; what is done is done out of love and only love.
The above description is clearly an example of what the perfect family might look like. And let’s face it; how many people have that? To many people the above may sound like something out of story.
As well as the above example there is also the other end of the spectrum and of course somewhere in-between. I do not believe that that it is as simple as there being three categories. However for the purpose of this article I will keep it to these three.
The Other Extreme
So now that we have a description of what a functional family may look like, let’s take a look at what a dysfunctional family can consist of.
The modes operandi of this family is not love and it is not support either. Its whole foundations are built on obligation and control and fear is always in operation.
''In a dysfunctional family, the word 'family' is often seen as a license for abuse'' - Oliver J R Cooper
Different forms of abuse are seen as normal and acceptable and the people within the family are often viewed as possessions. There might be examples of tyranny in other countries in the media; but in this family, it is a lot closer to home.
The family that one is brought up around will go along way into defining how one sees themselves and how one sees the world. This is an environment that will go along way into shaping ones mental, emotional and physical health.
And this is because what we learn about ourselves and the world is usually set by what is going on in our earliest environments. How one was responded to and how the family behaved around others has incredible consequences. And these consequences have the potential to be experienced for many years after
Aware And Unaware Families
In each of these two examples what is clear to see is that the level of awareness between these two examples is radically different. And what is also clear is that how aware a family is will be a defining factor in how the child will be raised.
However, when the child is brought into the world and is exposed to the behaviour of the family; it does not understand the above. To the child everything that happens is taken personally. It does not have the capacity or ability at that time to see, that how it is being treated is a reflection of how the individuals in the family treat themselves.
And how they treat themselves will often come back to how their family behaved during their younger years. It might also be the result of what happened later in their life. An example of this is where one chooses to be different and not allow their childhood to define them. This of course depends on the individual’s awareness.
After all these years of conditioning; one now has an identity. If one was born into a family that was fairly aware or even moderately aware; then their identity has the potential to be reasonably empowering.
Here one would have received enough mirroring and validation to support them and therefore create a fairly functional self image. Although ones image can change through ones life, it is always easier to change that image if ones original image was fairly empowering.
This is because one is more likely to have the mental power and external validation to believe in oneself enough to change.
Now let’s focus on the family that has very little awareness, both individually and therefore – collectively. The chances that one was exposed to abuse and experienced abuse are pretty certain. So ones image is not only influenced directly, but also indirectly because of the family lack of awareness.
And this lack of awareness is what is leading to dysfunctional behaviour. This can be classed as the different kinds of abuse and could be: mental, emotional, intellectual, spiritual or physical abuse.
The important nurturing factors like mirroring and validation are then likely to be nonexistent. So not only will one have an identity that is completely dysfunctional, but one’s precious inner life will also be unknown or denied at this time.
So what happens now? After one has experienced a dysfunctional upbringing it is always going to create challenges. This kind of upbringing can define ones whole life. And it can also be defined in a way that is classed as positive or in a way that can be classed as negative.
Traditionally the family that was in born into is meant to be who they are. What one can achieve and what one cannot achieve is interpreted through the family that one was born into.
The upbringing that one has creates their story. And this story typically includes who one is and what one is capable of. Each of these aspects and anything to do with ones story is always based on the past. It has nothing to do with who one is at this moment. And this is where ones freedom and empowerment come from.
A Gift Or A Curse?
Above I mentioned how ones upbringing can be defined in a way that is positive or negative. This might sound a bit confusing; how can something so dysfunctional be positive? When one has these dysfunctional experiences there are clearly no benefits to what has happened. Taken literally there is clearly nothing positive about these kind of experiences.
The ego mind will also hold onto everything that has happened. Emotions like: anger, rage, frustration and pain that were experienced may well be felt as if they happened yesterday.
One is likely to feel the need for revenge and want to change the past in any way that is possible; constantly replaying the scenes in their mind. The ego mind will keep everything alive and never let it go. It then becomes impossible for to ever leave the past and be in the present.
To the mind the past will always be a curse. Like a dog with a bone, it will go over and over the past. And this is where the duality of the mind comes into play. On one side it feels wounded and hurt by the past; which creates the idea that it wants to heal and move on from it.
But the on the other side we see a very different story. Although these dysfunctional experiences have caused great pain and suffering, to the mind they are what is familiar. And the ego minds whole existence and identity is based on the past. They are familiar and therefore safe to the mind and it then becomes irrelevant as to what kind of experiences these were.
So even though ones past memories might be traumatic; to the mind they have become its whole identity. It would be interpreted as death to the ego mind to let them go. For as long as one has become identified to their ego mind it will be practically impossible to move on and it will become a curse.
Through the observing of one’s ego mind and processing the trauma from the past one can begin to move into the present moment. And this is a process that includes validated and acknowledging ones story. This story is not to be denied and it is not to be taken as the truth of who one is.
Here one can then start to view the past in a new light. The meanings that one gives their past will always be unique to them. One might view the past in metaphorical or in symbolic terms.
And from this place one may have the urge to offer ones insight to others that need it. One can also be an example to others in the way they behave and respond to life.
One might never know why they were born into a certain family and perhaps this doesn’t matter. What one can do is have the gift of awareness and this can allow one to define who they are and to no longer be defined by their past.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 26 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.