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Switching Roles in a Dysfunctional Family, Still Dysfunctional

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In all dysfunctional families, the power structure and subservient roles are driven primarily by the parents (in this case) and primary caregivers (in general.)

Thus, dad dictates, mom enables, children play specific “branded” roles that allow the adults in power to quickly size up and stereotype the children and accordingly meter out judgment and affection according to stereotype.

Every member of a dysfunction family play a specific role.

Image by http://www.sxc.hu/profile/deafstarThis assignment of roles actually sustains the dysfunction, allowing the behaviors to continue, and in a way, for life to be “predictable” however “predictably chaotic/traumatic.” It’s easier to know dad is going to throw a dagger of a statement at you 99.9% of the time, than not knowing which dad you’re going to get: the mean dad or the nice dad (where drugs / alcohol are not involved.)

Here are some reasons why the dynamics of dysfunction change. Some may appear inevitable but I don’t take any of these for granted as “this is what’s going to happen”:

Why dysfunction changes shape and direction:

  • Because people will grow old, grow physically weak, and in most cases, diseased. The abusive person may suffer a stroke one day leaving him clear of mind but paralyzed on one side of the body, rendering him completely dependent for someone else (usually a partner/spouse or children) to feed him and clean him. Not too easy to be abusive to the person who has to wipe your butt every day so you don’t die of a bedsore infection.
  • Because children will physically grow up, (in most cases) become physically stronger than their parents over time, and in some cases, physically move away and spatially remove themselves from the dysfunction. Roles are relative, created in relation to another person, and reinforced by behaviors supporting the assumed roles. When children are wholly dependent they have no choice but to play the roles directly or indirectly assigned to them by the dysfunction. Once they start paying rent for their own place and earning enough to feed themselves, their independence from “old power” shifts.

Why I don’t take these changes “for granted” or as inevitable:

Because human beings can be emotionally conditioned and manipulated, such that even when they are removed from a dysfunctional environment, they will continue behaving and thinking as if they are still physically within that dysfunctional environment, and in many cases, human beings will actually recreate the same types of dysfunction in order to continue behaving and thinking the same way they have been conditioned to behave and think when they were powerless children.

This is how emotional abusers get away with behaviors that a physical abuser have to work hard at HIDING.

Emotional abuse is the batterer you’ve never met because that batterer died before you were even born, but who beat the sh*t out of one of your parents and you get to live with the ghost of that batterer through the perpetuation of manifest abusive behaviors in the victims, some of whom become perpetrators themselves.

Most of us are living with a dysfunction that is generations old, so ingrained in the thought patterns and habits of members of the family, that it’s become second nature, often overpowering intellectual assessments of “this can’t be normal, or good for the family, and certainly not good for healthy human relationships.”

And what if a role switch of a dysfunctional family is possible? Is it possible that the child grows up to become an adult that switches roles, perhaps one day to play a different role that is more rewarding or acceptable to the child versus what has been driven directly/indirectly by dysfunctional parenting?

In other words, will switching roles in a dysfunctional family change the dysfunction in that family?

One sign that a member of the family has broken free of the shackles of generations of emotional abuse and exorcised oneself of the ghosts of abusers past, is to free oneself of “a role” that has been assigned to support the dysfunction.

Thus, converting from “the overachiever” to “the rebel” is not a sign of freedom from emotional abuse.

It is changing one dysfunctional role for another dysfunctional role.

Freedom from emotional abuse starts when one forms a “self conception” that is not dictated or driven by the dysfunction, instead, formed by one’s rigorous inspection of one’s own values about life — how one wants to interact with life — and what one wants to contribute to, and gain from, life.

Written by Jane Chin

September 3rd, 2012 at 10:04 am

Posted in Family and Parents