7. Those Who Grew Up in a Dysfunctional Family
I’ve saved the topic of dysfunctional families for last because all of us live and grow up in dysfunctional families.
Some dysfunctions, handled well, can build great character. The same dysfunction in the life of another may bring heartache and despair.
David’s family was intensely dysfunctional. He ruined every child he ever had. His children lived in a world of incest, rape, murder, deceit, shame, and rebellion. He never took time to love and discipline his children.
On the other hand, Joseph grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family. Eight of his brothers hated him and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Nevertheless, he used that background to become second in command to Pharaoh.
In the early 1980s, Janet G. Woititz published a synopsis of many of the characteristics of adults who grew up in alcoholic families. Shortly after publishing her book, Adult Children of Alcoholics, she discovered that many people with addictions, who grew up in strict and/or judgmental religious upbringings, who were adopted, who lived in foster care, or who grew up in other dysfunctional environments often exhibited the same adult problems as those whose parents were alcoholics.
If you discover that you are growing up, or did grow up, in a dysfunctional family, be sure you give those around you a little grace. After all, they are usually just passing on what they received from their own parents.
My family tree is full of alcoholics, drunk drivers, sclerosis of the liver, suicides, rebellion, and even an abandoned child. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics. My mother and father never drank, but everyone around them did.
Personally, I always considered my family to be a good one—and in many ways it was. But I never understood just how dysfunctional my family was until I read Woititz’s work and identified with many of the symptoms.
Now I understand that many of the dysfunctional characteristics my mother passed on to me were passed to her from her ancestors. Mom simply passed on what she was given.
According to Woititz, adults whose parents were alcoholics or who grew up in overwhelmingly dysfunctional families:
Guess at what normal behavior is;
Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end;
Judge themselves without mercy;
Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth;
Have difficulty having fun;
Take themselves very seriously;
Have difficulty with intimate relationships;
Overreact to changes over which they have no control;
Constantly seek approval and affirmation;
Usually feel that they are different from other people;
Are super-responsible or super-irresponsible;
Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved;
Are impulsive (they or others tend to spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up their mess).
I identify with nine of the characteristics. I suppose that our family was about 4/13th functional.
How about yours?
I hope you find some of these thoughts faithful as you are considering someone to marry.
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