I met PB on a trek to the hills some years ago. We didn’t talk much initially, but when we did, our stories resonated the same beats, echoing into the far distances stretching before us.
Silence was a frequent punctuation, as we dwelled and dealt and reasoned. We were both much younger at the time and apart from finding commonness in our experience of emotions, we had wondered what it was that made our accounts frighteningly similar.
Now I like to think, we simply didn’t have the vocabulary to communicate. In a matter of five days, we had spoken of anger, sadness, numbness, shame and disconnection, in ways that we didn’t know we could.
Years later, one day, it occurred to me that we hadn’t articulated the obvious – both of us had roots in dysfunctional families. Our facts were as dissimilar as chalk is from cheese, while there being underlying themes that held similar sub-textual content. In time, I went on to meet other people, colleagues, friends and neighbors, and a space of mutual discloser came about.
It is typical of a dysfunctional family to be run by adults who display contrasting personalities – one being passive and dependent and the other being aggressive and individualistic and self-engrossed. In this utter perplexity, the child struggles to make sense of their own set of experiences and events unfolding around them.
The aggressive adult oppresses and dominates while the passive one is too apprehensive and submissive to protest.
So, at a conscious level, when caregivers fail to fulfill their responsibility towards the child, the child is left to believe that the fault resides in him/her and reasons out to himself about the lack of consistent availability of good parenting – he/she assumes that he/she isn’t worth the care and nurturance.
Now broaden the picture, and you’ll see how we end up carrying these early attitudes into our adulthood, especially if we aren’t initially aware of them.
Feeling dejected and persecuted and in turn, experiencing hurt and pain, becomes the norm.
A person brought up in a psychologically threatening environment of chaos and lack of order will grow up to create a sense of vague personal boundary for themselves. They will have no clarity of their choices, of their limits and will be highly gullible in nature.
It’s often thought that only people from families with extreme abuse and manipulation, go on to face boundary issues. The assumption is that the abuse must have either been sexual, physical or emotional in nature.
The assumption often is accompanied by the “looks of abuse”. In dysfunctional families though, abuse can have an entirely different appearance – it can occur in both overt and covert ways.
These instances, repeated over the length of a person’s childhood and sometimes even throughout teenage years, might not register as “abuse”, but the fact is they are.
The young person is unable to express his/her preferences and gets entangled in the obscure demands of his/her parents. This creates a massive discordance between their individual ideals, values that are formative in the teenage years and the values and attitudes of their parents.
If you find yourself unable to say “no” where you’d like to, credulous, fickle minded, indecisive or to even have enough clarity about ‘safe choices’, you might be someone from a dysfunctional family set-up.
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