but it hurts too bad to laugh.
One evening I watched a young man walk towards an older woman in a car in the parking lot. It appeared he was the son, she the mother. He began yelling at her, “Get out of here!” She didn’t leave and neither did he. He yelled a little louder, “I SAID, Get out of here!” He pointed toward the road while screaming, “GET OUT OF HERE. I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN.” He opened the car door repeating, “I SAID GET OUT OF HERE, I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN.” He seemed to know only those thirteen words and repeated them over and over. Finally, he turned and walked away as he flipped an obscene gesture over his shoulder. Then, turning to stare at her, he gestured once more and then weaved his way through the parked cars. She waited until he was several rows away and drove off.
Most families have periods when normal functioning is impaired—during times of stress (death, serious illness, loss of a job, etc.)—but healthy families return to normal after a crisis is past while dysfunctional families don’t. Dysfunctional parenting includes parents who over-function (controlling all choices), under-function (leaving children to fend for themselves), or violate boundaries (abusive). I don’t know the situation of the family above, but I wondered at his anger and then at how he’d learned to get away with such an outrage. I wondered if this was a family that would recover or die.
The effects of a dysfunctional family can be long term, which is not very encouraging considering nearly all will experience periods of dysfunction in their families. But as stated in the preceding paragraph, “healthy families return to normal after a crisis is past—while dysfunctional families do not.” If you’re reeling from the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family, “normal” may not come naturally. In the search for something customary and good, you may wish to cut the poisoned or dysfunctional part from your life by simply disassociating from family members. However, the remedy is more complex than simply severing relationships, because “No matter how much you want to cut your family out of your heart, you can’t. The bond is born when you are born, like an organ in your body. There is no surgery to remove it. When it is diseased, you live with a dull ache telling you that something inside you is not right.” (Tending Roses, Lisa Wingate, pg.51)
Other or additional remedies must be used to deal with the pain and ache of living in a dysfunctional family. Seven things that may help are
1. Reading uplifting literature
2. Finding your own wailing wall
4. Looking forward
5. Seeking professional help
6. Taking stock
7. Constructing a creative outlet.
1. Read good uplifting literature. The scriptures are full of examples of strong people who came out of bad circumstances and give several insights to overcoming awful situations: Consider Joseph. His brothers wanted to kill him, settled on selling him off as a slave, then lied to their father saying a lion had killed him—dysfunction at its finest. Yet, Joseph came out of that situation strong, resilient, smart, generous and loving. How did Joseph become so “normal”? Reading his story teaches us how Joseph triumphed.
Consider Adam and Eve’s family. Cain killed Able in a battle of sibling rivalry. Still, it wasn’t the undoing of their family. Seth followed and became a mighty man. How did Adam and Eve put their family back together? Reading their story shows us how.
Biographies also provide insights and examples of strong people who overcame difficult circumstances.
2. Find your own wailing wall. In Jerusalem there is a stone wall called the Wailing Wall where Jews gather to pray and mourn. They write their grief on slips of paper, roll them up, and poke them into gaps between the stones in the wall. When they leave, they leave their worries behind. Find a place or activity that allows you to ponder on your loss without consuming you. It may be going on walks or other forms of exercising, talking to a friend, gardening and tending flowers, etc. Use your loss to give you bearings, but don’t let it become your North Star.
3. Pray. There is a saying, “At night when I go to bed I leave my worries with God since He’s going to be up all night anyway.” Realizing there is a higher power who is in control gives perspective to problems that seem all consuming, and receiving answers to prayers are not only directive, but comforting.
4. Look forward. How safely would the roads be if everyone used only their rearview mirror to drive? Life is the same, looking back will not give you adequate vision for the road ahead. Look up, and look forward. Looking up helps the brain to focus on future events. Literally, “keep your chin up.”
5. Take stock. If you are a product from a dysfunctional family, take heart—and take stock. You survived. You’re resilient. Look and see what some of those characteristics are that helped you survive. Maybe you’re responsible because you carried much of the household responsibilities. Possibly you’re conscientious and sensitive to people’s needs. Perhaps you’re empathetic to others because of your experiences. Those traits are what helped you to survive in your dysfunctional surroundings. Hang on to them and keep them strong.
6) Seek professional help. Professional help is much the same as a personal tutor in a class. The class is life and you missed some of the assignments that would have taught you how to act under normal situations. A professional can help you see what “normal” is and how to act accordingly.
7) Construct a creative outlet. Making pottery, scrapbooking, knitting, writing, woodworking, painting, writing poetry, quilting, sewing, photography—the possibilities are endless—but a creative outlet focuses your energies in positive way that produces versus a negative way that consumes.
Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “I’m too big to cry, but it hurts too bad to laugh.” The phrase is apt for adults who come from dysfunctional families. Nevertheless, coming from a family of dysfunctional behaviors need not be a miserable life-sentence or a repeated pattern. With renewed effort and skills, you can create satisfying relationships and productive families. “GET OUT OF HERE, I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN” would only apply to the effects of dysfunction.