We’ve all heard about people growing up with alcoholic parents becoming alcoholics themselves. We’ve also heard about people marrying people exactly like their parents – consciously or subconsciously.
The same is true for dysfunctional families and for children who witness emotional or physical abuse. Most will swear that they’ll be different parents, but they don’t account for a subconscious comfort level.
I’ve met people who either dislike or completely hate the type of person their parent was, and vow to be completely different. As they age though, and their children grow, they often look back and see that in some ways they were exactly the same as their parents; maybe not as obviously, but on a emotional level, and they didn’t even realize it until then.
The same can be said for the people we marry as well. We will swear we’re marrying someone who’s the polar opposite of our parent. As our marriage progresses though, we realize we’ve married someone with the same traits. Have you ever had a friend whose second spouse was almost the same as their previous spouse?
Why is that? I believe it’s because dysfunctional childhood breeds dysfunctional adults, and when we’re dysfunctional, we don’t know what normal is. We’re seduced by the level of comfort we feel with a person, we con ourselves into believing they’re our safe harbour, our calm in the storm. How could it be wrong when it feels so right?
Because our behaviour has been conditioned. We don’t know what right is supposed to feel like. The “comfort” comes from the feeling of familiarity; that’s why it feels “right”.
Life is all about learning and growing. If you find yourself in a dysfunctional relationship with either your partner or your children, the first step is to recognize it and change it. If we didn’t like certain behaviours in our parents, and we find we’re acting the same way subconsciously, own it and apologize, and actively try to change.
If we’re in a relationship with a dysfunctional person, draw the line. Figure out if the relationship can be salvaged, go for counseling, either as as couple, a family, or individually. Have limits, know what you will accept, how you will respond, and what your deal breakers are. Then have a plan B. Always have a plan B.
If we’re starting a new relationship and we start to feel too comfortable too fast, run faster, much faster. The fact is you probably can’t trust your judgement. If you don’t realize it until it’s too late, see the paragraph above about being in a relationship with a dysfunctional person.
We can usually recognize a dysfunctional relationship if it:
- Makes us feel bad
- Makes us feel sad
- Makes us cry
- Makes us nervous (and not in a good way)
Sometimes these types of feelings have actually been triggered by some behaviour. Don’t accept it. Figure it out. Some people do that by keeping a journal so they can understand what triggered their negative emotion, and some people meditate for clarity and understanding. Find what works for you.
Some people never figure it out or they figure out the extent of dysfunction after the fact, when there’s some distance between themselves and the dysfunctional situation.
No matter what the situation, forgive yourself. The subconscious is a powerful thing, and self-discovery and understanding can take a lifetime. Thankfully, we have one. A lifetime.
We’ll get it right. Once we understand it.
And repeat after me:
I am strong
I am worthy
I will be okay
I found that when a situation triggered an anxiety attack, I would close my eyes and silently repeat that to myself. It is true for me and it is true for you too.
Just a piece of life experience and wisdom for you to think about.
This work by Suzette Seveny is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.